UT’s New Men’s Basketball Coach Wants to Bring the First NCAA Championship to his Alma Mater

Chris Beard, BA, ’95, has been back to Austin many times since his days as a student manager for Tom Penders’ Running Horns. But when you’re an opposing coach—Beard spent 10 years at Texas Tech as an assistant to Bob Knight and Pat Knight before eventually taking over the Red Raiders program—you’re really only focused on your players and the game. So it wasn’t until after UT made Beard its 25th men’s basketball head coach in April that he started to realize just how much Austin had changed.  

“I had to work really hard the other day to find a Texadelphia,” Beard says. “They used to be all over the place when I went to school here.” 

The 48-year-old coach eventually found his way to Brodie Lane, the site of the sandwich chain’s sole remaining Austin shop. He also found out firsthand that things are more or less the way they’ve always been at Matt’s El Rancho, except with even longer wait times. 

And one big thing is absolutely still the same: The Horns have yet to win an NCAA men’s basketball championship and haven’t made the Final Four since T.J. Ford and Rick Barnes got to New Orleans in 2003. It’s a vacuum that feels even bigger now that Baylor has become just the second Texas school to win a title. So now, for the first time in more than 40 years, UT is turning to one of its own. 

“Obviously, second place isn’t the goal here,” Beard says. “The responsibility of trying to get Texas not only back to Final Fours, but trying to get to that Monday night game and win some national championships here? Pretty easy to talk about. Very, very difficult to do. An exciting part of this job is that the expectations are so high. That’s something that I don’t shy away from.” 

“It’s always exciting to bring somebody back who has been a part of the school, and bleeds orange,” says University of Texas System Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife, BBA ’81, Life Member, who was part of the discussions around hiring both Beard and football coach Steve Sarkisian. When UT Athletics Director Chris Del Conte told Eltife and UT President Jay Hartzell that he wasn’t sure if Beard would leave West Texas, Eltife told the AD, “He’s our guy. If at all possible, let’s try to get him.” 

Technically, Beard has been coaching at UT since before he even started as a freshman. A graduate of McCullough High School in The Woodlands, the teenage Beard made enough of an impression on Penders and his staff as an aspiring walk-on that they asked him to arrive in Austin early, for the program’s youth camps.  

“We put him with the younger kids, seven-year-olds through 10,” Penders says. “And Chris, it seemed like his team always won. And then he kept moving up, and eventually he coached the older kids. You could tell that he loved coaching and teaching.” 

“I had a vision of wanting to be around the best basketball,” Beard says. “At the time, Coach Penders had what in my eyes was the most successful Division I program in Texas, from the ‘BMW’ days [when the Horns were led by Lance Blanks, Travis Mays and Joey Wright] getting into the Roderick Anderson, Terrence Rencher, Reggie Freeman days.” 

Beard never did get on the court during his time as a UT undergraduate, but his four years as a manager—Penders actually prefers the term “student assistant”—put him on the coaching lifer’s path, including stops at Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian, Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College, and Seminole State (Oklahoma) Junior College. In between his Lubbock stints, he spent one year as a head coach in the ill-fated American Basketball Association before moving on to McMurry, Angelo State, and then the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where his Trojans won the Sun Belt Conference and upset Purdue in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. At Tech, Beard’s unwavering commitment to defensive play got the Raiders to the Elite Eight in just his second season, then the championship game in Year 3, losing to Virginia. 

And now Beard is where he always imagined himself … and that doesn’t just mean Austin. “I didn’t get into this years ago to not be on this stage,” he says. “I tell the players all the time: Elite people know exactly what they want. And they’re not afraid or shy to say it.” 

Beard has made “uniting the Longhorn basketball family” (#UniteTheFamily) one of his watchwords, referring to former coaches and former players, to local fans and Texas Exes, and the current student body. Two of his assistants, Rodney Terry and Chris Ogden, have coached here before under Rick Barnes. Both left Division I head coaching jobs, at the University of Texas-El Paso and the University of Texas-Arlington, respectively, to come back and be part of this new era. 

And in addition to uniting the Longhorn family, Beard’s expanding it. He’s been joined in Austin by his fiancée, Randi Trew, who’s also a fellow coach—she most recently helmed the volleyball team at Frenship High near Lubbock. And while Beard’s oldest daughter, Avery, is at Columbia University, his middle daughter Ella, is an entering UT freshman. 

“That’s always been a ploy, to try to get one of my daughters to go to school wherever we’re coaching,” Beard says. “Selfishly, so I can spend a little bit more time with them.” Next up, 14 year-old Margo, who still lives in Abilene with her mother. “So it’s early recruiting, trying to get her to be a Longhorn.”

Credits: Courtesy of Texas Athletics


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