Texas Tech basketball finally appeared to be back on solid footing under the guidance of Hall of Fame coach Tubby Smith. However, Smith left for Memphis last week leading to the hiring of former Texas Tech assistant coach Chris Beard as the new head coach.
So, now the debate begins; would Texas Tech be better off had Smith stayed or is the future brighter with Beard?
After nine years of futility, the Texas Tech basketball program seemed to be on uptick following this season’s NCAA Tournament appearance. However, after the sudden departure of Tubby Smith, the man who turned the Red Raider basketball program from a dumpster fire into a winner in only three years, many are certain to wonder if Texas Tech is actually better off under the guidance of Chris Beard.
The contrast between the two coaches is stark. The 64-year-old Smith has been a head coach for 25 seasons winning 557 games and a national championship in Division I basketball.
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Chris Beard, who is 21 years Smith’s junior, has only been a head basketball coach for seven seasons (two of those being at the junior college level). The Texas native has won 505 fewer Division I games than Smith in his career.
So on terms of pedigree and name recognition, Smith has the advantage. However, there are some distinct advantages Chris Beard has going for him.
First of all, Beard is a native Texan and has coached at seven different Texas universities or junior colleges. Meanwhile, Texas Tech was Smith’s only coaching stop at any Texas school.
Beard’s deep Lone Star State roots should help him recruit in-state talent much more effectively than Smith. The world of basketball recruiting is much different than that of football in the sense that high school basketball recruits are far more likely to leave their home state to play college basketball.
However, the schools most likely to bring in highly regarded national recruits are schools with reputations for being perennial Final Four contenders. Meanwhile, Texas Tech will more likely have to find the vast majority of its high school talent from in-state players.
To Smith’s credit, he was able to bring Texas natives Norense Odiase, Justin Gray, Zach Smith and Jordan Jackson to Texas Tech in the past three years. However, Beard has spent the majority of his career recruiting the state, including 10 years recruiting specifically to Texas Tech.
He is credited with being the primary recruiter for some of the best Texas Tech recruits in recent years. Including Toddrick Gotcher (showing how long Gotcher has been around the Texas Tech program) Chris Beard helped bring John Roberson, D’Wayln Roberts, Mike Singletary, Darryl Dora, Terran Pettaway and numerous other Texas recruits to Lubbock. He was also instrumental in the recruitment of Jaye Crockett from Clovis, NM (located 100 miles from Lubbock).
Perhaps the best endorsement of Chris Beard came from his former recruit Toddrick Gotcher who tweeted last week his excitement about the return of his former coach.
Then there is the age argument.
While Texas Tech wanted Smith to stay at Texas Tech until he retired, would that have been the best plan for the long-term health of the basketball program? It is only human nature to slow down and give less effort when one approaches retirement.
Texas Tech fans saw this in person when Bob Knight seemed to lose his vigor after taking the 2005 Texas Tech team to the Sweet 16. Three years later, he retired in the middle of the season leaving his son Pat in charge of a roster ill equipped to compete in the Big 12.
To undertake the challenge of building a sustained winner at Texas Tech will require constant effort and will be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. It is possible that Smith would have been able, and more importantly, willing to put forth that type of effort until the day he retired but it is more likely that a man who is 43, as is Chris Beard, will be fully engaged in building a winning culture at Texas Tech over the long haul.
Finally, the biggest reason Texas Tech is better off with Chris Beard than Tubby Smith is that Beard wants to be a Red Raider. He left a job at UNLV, a program that is known for putting players in the NBA almost annually to take over in Lubbock where his heart has stayed since he left when Billy Gillispie took over in 2011.
Meanwhile, I was a bit disappointed in Smith’s response as to why he chose to coach at Texas Tech when I personally interview him for Wreck ‘Em Red about three weeks ago. He said nothing specific about Texas Tech or Lubbock other than the cliché complimentary comment about “West Texas Hospitality”.
"“…we saw an opportunity in the Big 12, it was an opportunity” Smith said. “I really wasn’t that aware of Texas Tech…”"
In other words, Smith said that he was out of work and was offered a job at a Power 5 school that he had no real knowledge of but he found a safe place to land.
Meanwhile, Chris Beard sees Texas Tech differently.
"At his initial press conference as Texas Tech head coach, Beard said paraphrased Bear Bryant and said, “When momma calls, you’ve gotta go home. Texas Tech is my momma, and I’m home. I’m so glad to be home.“"
Don’t be shocked if Texas Tech basketball dips a bit as Chris Beard implements his system and builds the program to be what he wants. If Smith had stayed, Tech likely would have been better over the next two – four years but with Beard on board, the long-term outlook for Texas Tech basketball is much healthier.
Chris Beard is not a Band-Aid. He is a solution. Chris Beard is not a carpetbagger. He is a Texan and he is a Red Raider.