In November 2018 I sat in a packed luncheon at the West Texas Homebuilders Association waiting for Chris Beard to take the stage as that day’s keynote speaker. Beard was dressed like a coach and he was casually and comfortably chit-chatting with folks as they stopped by the head table to say hello, good luck, or congratulations on the previous season’s historic run to Texas Tech’s first Elite 8. As my group talked and ate I kept an eye on Beard and realized he was taking the time to write. I was a bit surprised, not sure what it was he’d be jotting down in the moment.
When Beard was introduced by a sponsor who deadpanned about how touched he was such a big crowd had come to see him, Beard followed beautifully, finding out his name and inviting him out for a beer. The room was his, he’d broken the ice and his disarming humor and blue-collar approachability shined through. Then he held it up, the square cocktail napkin he’d been dutifully writing his notes on between pleasantries while waiting for his time to speak to come. I’m a public speaker myself and do a lot of it. I’m pretty critical of public speakers and those in broadcasting, expecting them to be polished and precise. A critique never crossed my mind that day as I marveled at the most masterful owning of a crowd I’d ever seen. Beard had us, and he didn’t let us go.
Beard spent his time talking (with hilarity) about the recruitment of Jarrett Culver, he talked about being a truth teller and told stories about his daughters. As I reflect now I realized that I learned that day the most important things about Chris Beard, and now with the perspective of everything else going on at the moment, I’ve seen the things that I believe will keep him in Lubbock for years to come.
Grind ♦ Truth-Telling ♦ Loyalty ♦ Love
Chris Beard loves a grinder because he is a grinder. While I may not be Tech’s #1 basketball fan that doesn’t mean I don’t consume the media that’s out there about this team. I remember some particularly insightful video about a day in the life for Coach Beard. It followed him through an incredibly long day of work and practice and then a night that goes way past midnight breaking down film with his staff. I’ll tell you from my own experience, you don’t get through those kinds of days, especially dozens of those days, because of sunshine and rainbows or because of money. No, anyone that puts in that kind of effort ultimately does it because of the people they’re doing it with and for. Now I know winning is in the equation and we’ll talk about that in a minute, but I’m talking about his drive to make his players and coaches successful.
If you’ve paid attention to the videos coming out of this program over March Madness you’ll catch a theme. When the players talk about their win, they credit the coaching. Not just a “he called a great game” type of comment, but that the coaches have prepared the players. These players know that their coaches are GRINDING for them. In the locker room post-game speech, wearing the Elite 8 net around his neck, Chris Beard casually threw into a heartfelt speech that “we’ll be ready, we’ll work for you guys.” You don’t just hop in at 9:00 am on a Monday morning with a latte, watch 30 minutes of film, and call it good when you’re going to play Gonzaga in the Elite 8. The level of preparation going on before players are involved is mind-blowing. These coaches and other staff are putting in hundreds of hours combined to prepare for these games. It’s truly incredible how much work they’re putting in. Beard is heard often thanking and congratulating his staff for their work, even the trainers got a Twitter shout-out for what looked like a perfectly measured tape floor for walkthroughs in the team hotel. All that work is paying off too because they’re finding tendencies that I bet teams don’t even know they have.
In the post-game press conference on Saturday, Beard was asked about Tariq Owens picking up a foul after halftime against Gonzaga. He casually mentioned one of those tendencies. “When you play against these Hall of Fame coaches, they score like 60 or 70 percent on ATOs, first play of the half,” Beard said. “So why not throw a punch? He’s over there drawing up something great. I’ve never minded taking chances against really good coaches and players.”
Beard is a master practitioner in two ways here. First, he’s fantastic at playing the PR game. He doesn’t get drawn into mud-slinging and goes out of his way to compliment opponents and opposing coaches. He maintains a humble attitude regarding his own obviously prodigious skill as a head coach. He’s had opportunities, like after Bob Huggins made some petty comments after a stinging home defeat, but he rises above them every time. Second, he’s flat out a fantastic coach and student of the game. But what I love about Beard and people like him is he’s not going to let himself fall into the trap of thinking he’s great, both naturally and intentionally he’s remaining humble and deflecting success.
I’m not a counselor or psychologist, but I know a lot of very high-performing people and I notice a common quality among them, I describe it as imposter syndrome but there may be better descriptors out there. Many high performers carry a feeling of inadequacy and it fuels their drive to perform and succeed. It’s not crippling, but there’s enough of it to make them worry someone is going to find out they’re a fraud or realize a mistake has been made in placing them where they are and they use that worry to take the extra step. That extra step is the one that average people aren’t willing to take. I see this in Chris Beard. The folks I’m talking about will deflect success and find excuses for why success happened to them. Luck, the actions of others, support by people or groups, great teachers, sound familiar?
In Beard’s case, it’s the “excuse” of hard work, of the grind. I’ve never heard him say he’s a great coach or attribute his success to his understanding of anything, he attributes it to hard work by his staff and players. While it’s true the hard work provides him the information he needs to coach, he’s discounting not only his own long hours and hard work but also what it takes to act on that information. In Beard’s mind, the work is his way of evening the playing field with the Hall of Fame coaches he’s facing and often praising. For him, if he was truly great he wouldn’t have to grind. Regardless of success, Beard will always see himself as a grind-it-out JUCO coach, borne from humble beginnings, standing on the shoulders of giants, enter your own cliche here. We outsiders may disagree, but it won’t matter because to a high performing person, they will always believe in their own inadequacy.
Beard needs the grind, he needs to continue to push himself further. We may think he’s a genius coach, and he may be, but he needs to believe he’s not because that will push him to be even better. I’ve never seen a high performer maintain their level of success if they lose the chip on their shoulder, forget where they came from, or begin to believe in their own success. Entitlement doesn’t breed success, grit does. There’s a reason we always hear Chris Beard talk about the JUCO ranks, driving around Texas, coaching in small schools, and eating corn dogs on the road. It’s the drive that moves him forward, and it’s the imperfection that fuels the drive.
So what does all this have to do with not leaving Texas Tech? Because Tech embodies the grind! This place isn’t a blue blood, all success here is borne of unapologetically believing in the institution and scratching and fighting for every grant, yard, inch, run, rebound, and recruit. The pioneer spirit of down-home, don’t make excuses, get it done with hard work and sweat is alive and well at Texas Tech and it’s alive and well in Chris Beard. Why would he leave for a blue blood school just to continue someone else’s tradition? He won’t let his grind go to waste just for a big name, he’s working too hard for that and he’s got too much left to prove.
Chris Beard loves to win. I know that’s easy to say – every great competitor loves to win. They love the thrill of victory and they hate defeat. But Beard is the kind of guy that uses that competitive fire to fuel his preparation, and that’s the key. I talked about making his players successful being what pushes him through that 2:00 am film session, it’s the competitive fire that even has him there in the first place. But that fire has been personified through commitments to be a truth teller, and to build a program of truth tellers. Beard isn’t only fired up to win national championships, he’s fired up to build young men.
Beard is open and honest with his guys about what they need to do to improve as players, students, and as men. Beard has made a commitment to Lubbock, to Texas Tech, and to recruits and players like Kevin McCullar, Andre Savrasov, Jahmius Ramsey, Khalid Thomas, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon, Khavon Moore, Kyler Edwards, and others. I feel strongly that Chris Beard would feel he wasn’t being a truth teller if he walked out of Lubbock after only three seasons, or if he left for money or a bigger name. He’s made commitments to people all over this community and is representing Texas Tech on a national stage. To walk out now would be contradictory to everything that Chris Beard has said and done. He’s definitely a guy that walks the walk when he talks the talk.
Chris Beard is making $3.1M a year, he’s raked in $600,000 in bonuses already with another $50k+ all but guaranteed with Coach of the Year accolades and grade bonuses surely coming. The last bonus on the schedule is an NCAA Championship, that’ll snag him another $200k. Looking at those kinds of numbers it’d be easy to assume that he’s going to become a CEO coach, rubbing elbows with boosters, going to parties, and letting his staff grind it out in long hours, recruiting, scheming, etc. Now you and I both know that Chris Beard is 100% not that guy. He’s going to continue to find ways to influence his players, his staff, this community, and Texas Tech. His most famous public comments were borne out of a desire to engage with those groups.
Beard’s fireside chats are obviously a hit, and aside from them being a genius marketing and PR move showcasing his deadpan humor and the cache he carries with college players despite being a middle-aged white guy, they are also a glimpse into who Beard is. He’s traveled the highways and farm to market roads of Texas for decades. He knows how to hit the road looking for talent and he makes friends at restaurants and roadside stops along the way. Do you know who else he’s making friends with? High school coaches. Chris Beard is obviously a likable and relatable guy and his willingness to get out there and work, his determination to win, making him just the blue-collar coach the doctor ordered for high school coaches. They want a guy that gets them, that knows where they are and respects it. They’re not looking to be impressed by a guy in a tailored suit or vest (what was that about Buzz Williams?). Those relationships are working because the recruiting class is currently Top 15.
Chris Beard said in his introductory press conference that his goal is to take Texas Tech to a Final Four, to “do what Marsha Sharp did here years ago. That’s the goal and always will be, to win every game on the schedule and end up in a Final Four here at Texas Tech.” Beard isn’t going to be satisfied just because his first stated goal has been met. He’s in the midst of building a legacy at home after only three years. “There’s a big chip to carry around, one that belongs to every Red Raider and to every coach that has worked their tail off in anonymity. I do feel like I’m representing a lot of people in our business — JUCO coaches, D-2 coaches, guys that never get the chance, that are really good coaches that work hard. I hope there are a lot of people out there supporting our program and kind of living through us,” said Beard.
Chris Beard isn’t a guy that’s going to walk away from the responsibilities he’s talking about here. He’s not going to let down the people he cares about in his profession by “selling out” when he’s proving in real time that you can build great things with hard work, determination, and great people around you. He’s proving that doing things the right way isn’t a cliche, it’s a real way to succeed. Fifteen years from now, Chris Beard will still be able to look his former players, his staff, and his fans in the eye because he’s been a truth teller. The best I can tell, truth-telling for Chris Beard is a foundational principle of his life. He’s not looking into the future, he’s looking into the soul and character of people and believing in them.
I know, some of you reading (thanks for hanging in by the way) are rolling your eyes. You’re thinking “ok Keith, we get it, you’ve got all the feels, but money talks.” I know, I truly do know. But there are some deep ties here worth talking about that aren’t going to trump money, but they will definitely play into the conversation and many of these relationships will result in financial gain as well.
First of all, Chris Beard is a Red Raider. I know, he graduated from the University of Texas, doesn’t matter. Your heart doesn’t always lay with your alma mater, I’ve seen it happen. The most influential professor for me in undergrad and graduate school was an Aggie for his bachelors and masters, but he came to Texas Tech for his Ph.D. and fell in love. I don’t know how quickly that happened for Chris Beard, but it’s apparent to me that it did. He bailed on the UNLV job in the blink of an eye for a chance to come back to Lubbock, a place he spent 10 years coaching under Bob Knight. Mama called and he came home.
Chris Beard is also loyal to those who’ve committed to him. Kirby Hocutt is a relationship guy and he’s also savvy to this business. He gave Beard his Power 5 shot, but he also has committed to the program. Kirby Hocutt spoke to this point on his weekly radio show on Double T 97.3. “Not a better basketball coach out there than Chris Beard and he’s earned the right for other programs to reach out to him and they would be crazy if they didn’t. But you know what, we’re not going to let him get away.” I think that some schools make an automatic assumption that they can money-whip Chris Beard, well he doesn’t operate like other coaches. He’s not sitting at Texas Tech counting his millions just waiting for the next gravy train to come along. He’s here to win, and Kirby Hocutt has proven to Beard that he’s willing to invest not only in him but in his program to make it a perennial success.
The Dustin R. Womble Practice Facility is a major demonstration of that investment. It is now under construction and this happened very quickly when you consider how slowly some projects can move. This facility began with a smaller footprint and a smaller price tag and has grown from an initial budget of $23M up to an almost $30M investment. This facility, which Chris Beard was given significant input into, is the dream of any coach/recruiter in the country and kudos to Kirby Hocutt for making it happen quickly rather than holding out another year. Any school not only willing to pay top dollar for their coach (which Tech will) but also making significant investments in the program itself has its priorities straight and a coach like Beard will absolutely recognize that.
Out of every reason I’ve listed in this far-too-long post, this one is the most important and the most convincing to me as to why Chris Beard is a Red Raider for years to come. At that lunch, Coach Beard told two stories about his daughters that struck me as so powerful for a dad. I’d seen Beard choke up early in his tenure at the prospect of being back near his girls. From Arkansas to Las Vegas (and a bunch of other stops) you know Beard didn’t enjoy being away from his girls but he was working to build the life for them that he knew he could. When the opportunity to be just 2 1/2 hours away from them came it was icing on the cake of being back at Texas Tech, in a Power 5 conference, with all the resources he could ever need to build a contender.
Some out there talking on podcasts are sure Chris Beard will leave, or they hope he doesn’t but understand if he does, well I don’t. Not only is Beard just a fantastic fit here culturally, but none of these faceless voices seem to understand the importance of family in the decision-making process of a father. Beard is literally in the best place to have everything. He can build a national powerhouse basketball program and be a part of his daughters’ lives. His oldest, Avery, is attending Columbia University in New York City. Now Lubbock isn’t close to NYC, but it’s a heckuva lot closer than Los Angeles for instance since UCLA just had to be the job he’d leave for according to people with no idea.
Margo and Ella live in Abilene and Ella plays basketball for Abilene-Wylie High School. Beard said he went out to Frenship High School to watch Ella play in an early-season game. He watched a half and then drove 15 minutes to the United Supermarkets Arena and coached the Red Raiders against Incarnate Word (where he was once an assistant). After the game (which was the night Duke destroyed Kentucky 118-84) Ella was there at the USA greeting Beard after a 50 point victory, the first words out of Ella’s mouth were “did you see Duke?!?”
The crowd loved the story, and you could tell Beard did too. He told it in response to a question about facing Duke the following month. But for me, it tells a different story. There’s literally no other Power 5 program in the country with all of the fit I’ve touched on here, the resources and commitment of Texas Tech, the unique cultural fit of Lubbock and Beard’s personality, and the ability to have his daughters 2 1/2 hours away and easily accessible. Additionally, Beard’s girlfriend Randi is the varsity volleyball coach at Frenship High School, he recently mentioned her in some of his press appearances calling her “special.” We’ve started to see her making more appearances in his Twitter and we saw her often around the recent games. Chris Beard has put down roots in Lubbock, he put them down for over 10 years and now he’s returned to them and grown them further.
Beard told another story, one about crossing paths on I-20 with Ella’s team. He was driving on a recruiting trip and she was with her team making a stop for dinner. He was able to meet up, have dinner with his daughter, and even have a conversation with her coach. Beard wasn’t giving pointers they didn’t even talk about coaching, they were covering dad stuff. In fact, Beard was owning up to being the driving force behind some bad language by his daughter. “I raised her to love the game and she’s passionate about it.” He said with a grin. Crossing paths with his kids while doing what he loves won’t be happening in North Carolina, California, Austin, or Kansas. Chris Beard is right where he belongs, he’s smart enough to know that, and he’s got every reason to believe it – and so do I.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash