The Basketball Vagabond: Texas Tech’s Chris Beard is thriving after returning to his roots

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To this day, when Chris Beard is asked about the best team that he’s ever coached, he doesn’t mention his current Texas Tech team, the one that is ranked No. 8 in the country and just six days removed from winning at Allen Fieldhouse.

He doesn’t mention his Little Rock team, either, the one that upset No. 5 seed Purdue in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

To hear him tell it, the best team that Beard ever coached was the South Carolina Warriors, an ABA expansion franchise, a team in a league where half court shots count as four points, you get a bonus point for baskets that come off of backcourt steals and players can’t foul out of games; a league that few people even realize still exists.

Six years and five jobs later, Beard has returned to Lubbock to lead a school that fired him, sending him to the depths of America’s pro basketball ranks, into poll position in the race to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12.



It was June 23rd, 2011, three months after Billy Gillispie replaced Pat Knight and ten years after Chris Beard had taken a job on staff with the Red Raiders, and for the first time in a decade, Beard was out of work.

After initially being retained by Gillispie, the university and Beard had decided to part ways. The timing could not have been worse. By late-June, most of the movement in the assistant coaching ranks has come to a close, particularly at the higher-end of the salary scale. Most of the college coaching jobs that Beard, who has three daughters that live in Texas, could have chased were filled.

And that’s assuming he could have gotten them in the first place. Industry sources told NBC Sports that the split between Beard and Gillispie was hardly amicable, and reports at the time stated that “heated altercations” between the two, including one that was “physically broken up” by Texas Tech’s Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt, led to Beard’s resignation.

Then there was the buyout.

Beard wouldn’t have seen any of that money if he took another college coaching job, and none of the openings he tried to chase down came with a salary large enough to make up that difference. Beard has kids that he needed to support. He was already staring at the paycut that comes with losing a position as the associate head coach of a Big 12 program. Passing up on that buyout money to take a spot as the third assistant with some random mid-major team didn’t make sense, not when he could have very well ended up looking for another job by the following Final Four.

“I had an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what I wanted to do,” Beard told NBC Sports in an interview last week. “I’m not a guy that was going to go do TV or anything like that. I’m not good looking enough. But I knew I wanted to stay involved in basketball.”

That’s when Beard got word about an opportunity in Myrtle Beach.

Or maybe Tony Bennett, who spent time as both the General Manager and the Owner of the South Carolina Warriors, got word of Beard’s availability.

No one seems to remember exactly who called who first, but all parties agree on this: Purdue head coach Matt Painter was the conduit. Bennett was a former walk-on at Purdue, a grey shirt that ran on the scout team for the Boilermakers during the years when Painter was a scholarship player. Painter also happened to be an AAU teammate of Pat Knight, Beard’s former boss. The connection was made.

Beard – who went to high school outside Houston, was a student-assistant at Texas and spent his entire coaching career, outside of two one-year stops at Junior Colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma, in the the state of Texas – was off to South Carolina.

To take over a team that didn’t have an arena to play in.

Hell, when Beard got the job, you couldn’t even call the Warriors a team.

They didn’t actually have any players.


Chris Beard cuts down net after winning Sun Belt title with Little Rock (Stephen B. Thornton/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

At the tender age of 44, Beard has already been a head coach with eight different teams. Prior to heading to Texas Tech the first time around, Beard was the head coach at Fort Scott CC and Seminole State CC, each for one season. He spent one year with the South Carolina Warriors before returning to Texas as the head coach at a newly-minted Division II program, McMurry University. After one season at McMurry, Beard was named head coach at Division II powerhouse Angelo State. He spent two seasons there before getting the head coaching gig with Little Rock. After winning a first round game in the NCAA tournament in his inaugural season in Arkansas, Beard was named head coach at UNLV, where he lasted precisely one week before taking over for Tubby Smith at Texas Tech.

It’s something that he’s taken heat for, and yet he claims that he doesn’t look for jobs. Beard told Sports Illustrated in 2016 that he doesn’t even have a résumé.

“We have success and people reach out,” Beard says. The truth is that Beard, who has Texas Tech in the top ten of the AP Poll in just his second season in charge, was coaching at a level that was beneath him all of those years, and when a better job – with better pay, better players and a better chance at winning – comes along, he took it. Most people in most professions would do no different.

And for Beard, the real point of pride is in how he left the previous school.

“Each time I’ve moved, one of my assistants has gotten the head coaching job,” Beard said. “Everybody benefited. I would like to think that if you talked to any of those jobs – South Carolina Warriors, McMurry, Angelo State, Little Rock – they would tell you the program is in better shape when I left than when I came in. I’m really proud of that.”

That leaves UNLV, where Beard signed a five-year deal only to leave for Texas Tech a week later.

“It’s something that I don’t enjoy talking about it,” he said, “but I’ll be consistent. The truth sets you free. The timing was terrible and I felt bad for the people there, but sometimes in life opportunities come and you’ve got to do the right thing.”

For Beard, the right thing was returning to Texas Tech. UNLV, at the time, has just two scholarship players left on the roster. Sources told NBC Sports that at the first team workout Beard had at UNLV, the only player that showed up was a walk-on from Las Vegas. He was staring at a long rebuild in a city that was a flight away from his daughters and in a conference a rung or two below the Big 12.

Texas Tech?

They were coming off of an NCAA tournament under Tubby.

And it was also Texas Tech.

“It’s like when Bear Bryant left Texas A&M for Alabama,” Beard said in his introductory news conference. “He said, ‘When momma calls, you’ve gotta go home.’ Texas Tech is my momma and I’m home.”


(John Weast/Getty Images)

The first thing that Beard did when he arrived in Myrtle Beach was to start building a roster, and he could not have picked a better time to do it.

Beard’s first foray into professional basketball happened to coincide with the NBA lockout.

“A lot of the players weren’t playing in the D-League,” Beard said. “They weren’t even going overseas because the whole basketball world froze for a little while.”

Beard and Bennett pounced. Instead of going through agents, they recruited the way they would to a college program. They wore out their contacts list, reaching out to anyone and everyone that may have a line on a player looking for a team.

It worked.

The Warriors’ roster was headlined by former high-major players. Former Kentucky center Perry Stevenson played for the Warriors, as did former Texas Tech point guard John Roberson. Marquise Gainous played for TCU. Brendan Knox played at Auburn. The Warriors also reeled in as much local talent as possible, adding former Charleston star Tony White Jr. to the roster as well as a handful of players from the local Division I program, Coastal Carolina, because the second step after building a roster was building a fanbase that actually cared.

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

That process started with making the games an event, not just a place to watch basketball. The program brought in a cheerleading squad. There was a band playing in the gym. It took a while to lock down a place to play their home games, but Beard eventually discovered the Carolina Forest Recreation Center.

It wasn’t exactly an arena, but it was nicer than a typical high school gym and could fit more than 1,000 people. Crowds hovered around that number as the season went on, in no small part a result of the way the ABA game is played.

The ABA understands what it is. It’s not the NBA. It’s a step below the G League, so instead of using standard professional basketball rules, they made changes to creating as thrilling a style of play as possible. Any shot made beyond half court counted as four points. Instead of a ten-second backcourt violation, teams only have seven seconds to get the ball across half court. Any turnover committed in the backcourt meant that the next shot taken by the team that forced the turnover would be worth an extra point – twos were worth three, threes were worth four and halfcourt shots were worth five. Throw in that players could not foul out of a game, and it was pretty easy to figure out the optimal way to play.

Imagine Press Virginia on steroids. Imagine VCU’s Havoc defense, only gambling more.

Throw in the fact that the Warriors were the most talented team in the league, and what you got was high-octane basketball with video game numbers: They broke 150 points seven times, including a season-high of 194.

The only issue was money.

There wasn’t a ton of it to go around. Beard had his buyout money to float him, and the players were treated better than they were for most teams in the league, but that didn’t change the fact that those ABA paychecks “weren’t very good,” Bennett said, adding that often those paychecks would show up late. “A lot of people make worse, but it wasn’t a lot.”

The team created a few side hustles to help ease the financial burden on their players. Players would be given tickets that they could sell, splitting the profits with ownership. The team cut deals with restaurants in the area, exchanging advertisements and publicity at the games for a postgame drink and appetizer vouchers for the players. The free housing in Myrtle Beach helped as well.

“We wanted them to feel like pros,” Bennett said.

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

That wasn’t always easy when the team would be forced to practice in random rec centers or high school gyms, or even on outdoor courts, if no other court space was available.

The ABA is not glamorous. “Off the court it was like I was living the Will Ferrell semi-pro life,” Beard said, and that was exactly what he needed.

“I’ve always been a pretty humble guy, I’d like to think that I’m not entitled or anything like that, I just love basketball. But that year really made me appreciate basketball even more. We would practice in rec centers. We would practice outside. We didn’t have a trainer. We just kind of bonded together.”

“The experience for him was really good because he had to do so many things he didn’t do before,” Bennett said. “It created a family environment. The players all lived in the same place. The team had Sunday meals together.”

And before long, they were selling out games. “The community in Myrtle Beach embraced the team,” Beard said. The Warriors would go undefeated until the championship series, where they were swept by a team from Jacksonville owned by Christian Laettner.

With that, Beard’s tenure in the professional ranks was over. He had a line on a Division II head coaching position back in Texas. Bennett sold the team to a group of investors in Myrtle Beach and within two years, the team no longer existed.


(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

For a college basketball coach, there is a risk in calling a job like Texas Tech your “dream job,” as Beard did at his introductory press conference in 2016, particularly for a coach with Beard’s reputation of job-hopping.

This is Beard’s 23rd season as a basketball coach, and outside of the ten years that he spent as an assistant at Texas Tech, he’s never been in one place for more than two seasons.

He was at UNLV for a week before leaving to take Texas Tech.

Your “dream job” is the one you don’t leave, and if Beard wins the Big 12 in his second season at Texas Tech, a school whose entire basketball history to date can be summed up with Darvin Ham broke a backboard and Bob Knight retired from there, what job would be unavailable to him?

Beard has built a reputation for being a coach that can rebuild quickly, and there’s a school in Louisville that will be in the market for someone that can provide a quick turnaround. Beard could get a $2 million-a-year raise and Louisville would still be spending less than half of what they did on Rick Pitino’s salary, and an offer like that would be awfully hard for anyone to say no to.

Which is why it’s silly for a coach to paint themselves into a corner. You never know what the future holds. Beard is smart when distancing himself from that dream job discussion.

“I’ve always felt that way with the job that I’ve had,” Beard said. “When I got the Fort Scott CC job, [Beard’s first head coaching gig], I was never more excited. I’ve always just felt that way.”

But Texas Tech might be the job that’s different. He’s spent time here, the only place where he has set down roots as a professional. His daughters are close, he’s back in Texas, and Texas just so happens to be the state that is home to Whataburger.

It’s the little things that matter.

Beard is also a dreamer with a chip on his shoulder, and he recruits dreamers with chips on their shoulder. He believes that he can win a national championship at Texas Tech and he recruits players that do the same, players that have a desire to prove to everyone that said they weren’t talented enough to play at Kansas that they can win at Kansas.

At the same time, it’s not glitz and glamour of high major basketball that Beard is addicted to.

It is the competition. It is the satisfaction that comes with victory. It is the moments that he experiences with his team.

After last week’s win in Lawrence, Beard got onto the Texas Tech bus and sat next to his assistant, Max Lefevre, who has been a member of Beard’s staff since 2013, when Beard was at Angelo State.

“No disrespect to Kansas,” Beard said, “this is what it felt like when we beat Tarleton State.”

“My girlfriend now is a high school volleyball coach,” Beard told me, “and I tell her that her season is just the same as mine. It’s all relative. When she has a big game it’s just like if we’re paying Texas or Baylor. When you’re a competitor and you’re in competition, the level doesn’t matter.”

“The moment does.”

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.