Men’s Basketball Head Coach Rodney Terry Led the Longhorns to Their Best Season in 15 Years and Is Looking Ahead

Rodney at the Texas vs. Rice game, 2023.

It was one heck of a birthday present, even if Rodney Terry would have gladly taken it belated.

On March 27, the same day he turned 55, Terry became the 26th men’s basketball coach at The University of Texas. Originally a Longhorns assistant under Rick Barnes from 2002 to 2011, and then the head coach at both Fresno State and the University of Texas at El Paso, Terry had already gone from the Longhorns’ associate head coach in 2021 to acting head coach on Dec. 12, 2022, to interim head coach on Jan. 5, 2023, following the suspension and eventual dismissal of Chris Beard, who’d been arrested for domestic violence. (The charges were later dropped, but school officials still found Beard “engaged in conduct unbecoming a head coach at our university.”)  

As Terry not only guided his Longhorns through that fraught situation but also led them to the program’s best season in years, the buzz kept getting louder. With a 22-8 regular season record (including 16-1 at home under both coaches), a Big 12 tournament title and the program’s highest seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament since the 2003 Final Four squad (which Terry also coached), the question was not if but when he would be named the permanent head coach. There was little doubt the promotion was coming—it just wouldn’t happen while the Longhorns were still playing. 

Which meant that less than 24 hours after UT fell to Miami in the Elite Eight—the program’s best showing in the tournament since 2008—he got the job. It was a major achievement, even if it would have been better to not get it until April 4, since that would have meant UT had been in the Final Four. But now, armed with a five-year, $15.3 million contract, two national Coach of the Year awards (The Sporting News and the Clarence “Big House” Gaines award) and an evolving 2023–24 roster with both returning players and big-name transfers and recruits, Terry is already thinking about next year’s Final Four. The Alcalde caught up with him by phone amid a very busy spring of traveling, recruiting, and attending graduation ceremonies for three of his former players.   

So tell me first: Having been the head coach at Fresno State and UTEP, why did you originally leave El Paso for the associate job in Austin?  

It was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. To come and be a part of the Texas brand again, to come back to a city I love again, to have an opportunity to be closer to my family again. And, just trying to compete for a national championship. At The University of Texas, expectations are to try to win a national championship every year. Coach Beard and I had a lot of respect for each other over the years that our teams had competed against one another, and it’s what we both came here to try and do.    

And you’d already bought a house in Austin even before the job offer, right?  

Yeah. During COVID, I had come down and spent a couple of weeks with my close friend, Lance Blanks. We were out walking the dog one day and found a house in the neighborhood where I wanted to have a place.   

I’m very sorry about Lance [the UT basketball great died on May 3]. What was special to you about him as a player and a person?  

An incredible person. A smart guy who always gave me incredible food for thought on any topic. A huge loss for us, and this world. As a player, he had a stellar career. He really made Texas basketball relevant again, in the era of the Running Horns and “BMW.” They made an Elite Eight run and put Texas basketball on the mountain here. Then a first round draft pick, got a chance to play with the “Bad Boys” [the Detroit Pistons], and transitioned into the front office for 20 years and won two world championships with the Spurs. Just an incredible career.   

The list of players you coached during your first stint here reads like a Hall of Fame or All-Star roster. If you had to start a team with one guy from that era, who would your draft pick be?  

Oh, man, you’re trying to get all my guys upset with me right now! Like, if I say Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford’s going to get mad, right? If I say T.J. Ford, D.J. Augustin’s going to get mad. Man … that’s a loaded question right there!   

I think we can live with that answer. So, Dec. 12, the day you became acting head coach. What was your first order of business?  

First order of business that day was to try and take care of our guys. Take care of our team. Make sure that they were in a great space to continue to move forward. We had a game that day, so the biggest thing on my plate was really just trying to get our guys focused.   

Was there a moment where you felt like the identity and trajectory of the team stabilized?  

I think after a few games, we were able to finally get going a little bit. We were able to really instill in our guys to play in the present and try to play for one another. And I think they all really bought into that at an incredible level. We tried to get better every single day that we stepped out on the court, and we tried to really enjoy the journey as a team.  

And what about for yourself, especially early on—was it hard not to think about the fact that you might want the job for keeps?  

You know what, I really didn’t give a whole lot of thought to that, contrary to what a lot of people thought. I just got lost in what we were doing with our team. And I just wanted it so bad for our guys, based on the adversity they were going through. So my whole focus was on those guys trying to be as successful as they could be.   

And you were able to tune out that talk in March as well, when it just kept getting louder.  

They did an incredible job all year long, just blocking out the noise and just, again, trying to play for one another, and create their own narrative. You concentrate on controlling what you can control throughout the course of the season.   

Texas vs. West Virginia, 2023.

Is there anything you look back on now that you’d change in the Miami game?   

No. I think if we did it 100 times, we’d probably do it the same way. I thought our guys came out and really competed at a very high level for a better part of the ballgame. Just like any game, you’re going to experience a level of adversity and you’re going to have to will yourself through it. I felt there were times throughout the course of that game that we put ourselves in a position to win the game. But no, I wouldn’t do anything differently.   

Obviously you were already recruiting here. But how different is the landscape just in the two years since your last time as a head coach?  

The transfer portal was still kind of in its early stages as I was finishing up my time at UTEP. Now it’s obviously in full motion, along with NIL. So it’s really changed the landscape of recruiting as a whole. There are going to be situations that are a lot different than what we’ve been accustomed to. In basketball, we didn’t have a whole lot of guys changing their minds before—football guys would always flip, and change [their commitment] over time, but that really wasn’t something that happened a lot in college basketball. I think it’s a trend that will continue, and you really won’t have your guys until they actually set foot on campus.    

You put your time in at the Drum. What’s it been like at the Moody Center?  

We finally feel like we have a home court. You know, the Erwin Center served its purpose for a number of years. Now we’re in a venue where Charles Attal [of Austin promoter C3 Presents] has done an incredible job putting that together, for music acts and as a basketball venue. There’s a lot of energy in that building. Our students have been incredible. They’re closer to the court. We probably have the loudest arena in the Big 12—one of the loudest in the country for that matter. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

CREDITS: UT Athletics/Angela Wang, UT Athletics/Jacob Eaker


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