Chris Beard’s Return to Lubbock Gives Texas Tech Revenge

LUBBOCK, Texas — The 4,500 students sprinted into the arena two hours prior to the game, many of them having braved the 20-degree temperatures the previous three nights sleeping in tents. This was the moment that they had anxiously awaited for the last 10 months, the time they could finally express their venom and pure hatred to the man who built this program, the man who helped take Texas Tech from mediocrity to a single basket shy of a national championship.

When Chris Beard finally walked out of the locker room with three minutes left on the pregame clock, there were five Lubbock police officers waiting for him, in addition to his own personal bodyguard. No one quite knew what to expect from this rabid fan base, one he built over the last few years with a winning culture, blue-collar approach and a personality that allowed him to connect to West Texas.

Beard took a sharp right out of the visiting locker room, and walked slowly and methodically about 50 feet down the hallway. This was finally the moment, one that everyone had circled on their calendars since he left Lubbock abruptly for Austin back in April.

Fifteen thousand, three hundred strong, a new school attendance record, yelling and screaming as he emerged from the bowels of United Supermarkets Arena.

When they ultimately got eyes on him, it was complete bedlam. Pandemonium.

Their once-revered fearless leader was now Benedict Arnold in their eyes, going from Texas Tech to in-state rival Texas. It was the ultimate slap in the face to a program long considered the little brother to UT. 

They shouted at the top of their lungs.

“F— you, Beard,” almost in unison.

Young children held signs calling Beard a traitor, old men were throwing up the double-bird and the students hurled nearly every expletive in the book at him, with one girl even calling him “ugly.”

They called him a snake, Country Club Chris and even made fun of his physique.

Former players Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase, who played for Beard on the 2019 team that went to the national championship, begged and pleaded with the student section just prior to the start of the game not to cross the line and throw anything at Beard.

This had all the makings of an ugly situation. A day earlier, about 25 students hurled profanities at Beard and the Texas players as they walked off the bus into the arena for practice and then more than a thousand lined the top of the tunnel, with many following the bus on foot as it backed out following practice.

Fortunately, the Texas Tech students behaved about as well as could be expected during the game — given the circumstances, the alcohol consumed outside the building beforehand and the pent-up anger built up over the past 10 months. 

Beard walked forward stone-faced, the same look displayed by every one of his players, onto the court and stood next to his bench, virtually emotionless.

“Tonight wasn’t about me,” Beard would say after the game.

But this was all about Beard.

Students and boosters alike echoed the same sentiment leading up to the game, that it wasn’t that he left Texas Tech for Texas.

That it was how he left.

“They lost respect for him because he didn’t address them properly,” Owens said.

Let’s face it: If Beard hadn’t told the boosters until he was on his way out of town that he was leaving for Kansas, Kentucky or UCLA, they would have forgiven him. If he had tried to take players with him to Lawrence, Lexington or Westwood, they would have eventually understood. That’s the business.

But you can’t go from Texas Tech to Austin. It’s like going from Michigan to Michigan State, or the Red Sox to the Yankees.

“I don’t buy into him being a traitor. Lubbock is a town full of loyal, hard-nosed people,” Owens said. “When he left, I knew it was going to get crazy. But not like this.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that these were Beard’s people: Students, young kids and boosters who had completely fallen for the former Bob and Pat Knight assistant. Beard returned to Lubbock and took this program to heights never seen before, just one basket shy of beating Virginia for the national title in 2019. He was a rock star in Lubbock.

From the moment he returned in 2016 as the head coach after a one-year stint at Little Rock, they believed him when he said he was one of them.  They still use the line he took from Bear Bryant against him from his introductory news conference: “When momma calls, you’ve gotta go home. Texas Tech is my momma and I’m home.” 

But now he was Public Enemy No. 1, 2 and 3. In fact, one student told me he would have been fine this season with losing every single game — as long as the Red Raiders beat Beard and the Longhorns.

Not much was expected from this Texas Tech team after Beard departed and was surprisingly replaced by his assistant, Mark Adams. The 65-year-old was a longtime junior college coach who was known as a defensive genius, but there were legitimate concerns whether he could run a high-major Division 1 program and recruit at a high level. Adams retained key pieces — Terrence Shannon Jr., Kevin McCullar and Marcus Santos-Silva — and hit the transfer portal to fill out the roster.

Across the state, Beard was getting no shortage of love. He retained a few players from Shaka Smart’s team that was embarrassed by Abilene Christian in the first round of the NCAA tourney last March and also hit the portal, adding a half-dozen of the most sought-after transfers in the country. Some (yes, it was me) even ranked Texas as high as No. 2 in the country in the preseason.

Instead of Beard returning to Lubbock with a potential Final Four team against a mediocre Red Raiders group, it flipped. Texas is a disappointing 16-5 overall and the Longhorns sit in fifth place in the Big 12. Meanwhile, Adams has done a National Coach of the Year-caliber job, and Texas Tech entered Tuesday night ranked 14th in the country. 

And they led from start to finish against Texas.

“Revenge,” recently graduated Red Raider Tony Aufieri told me while on the court celebrating the convincing win. “I feel vindicated. We’ve been waiting on this since April 1.”

“This is absolutely crazy,” added sophomore Jonathan Kath. “I feel a lot better now. This is what he built. That’s fine. But we’re still fine without him.”

Beard didn’t show any emotion when he first walked onto the court and didn’t show any after the game when reporters asked about coming back to Lubbock and the reception he received. In fact, the only time he showed any was when he got a little teary-eyed listening to Texas guard Marcus Carr speak glowingly about how much the players wanted to win the game for their coach.

Finally, sitting in the coaches’ locker room just prior to walking out of the arena, Beard was able to talk to me about what the night meant to him.

“My emotions were all positive. Fifteen years of my life were here,” he said. “It was positive. A lot of people here I still love. Great atmosphere, too.”

The atmosphere was as electric as any I’ve witnessed in college basketball in the past decade. I’ve been to Cameron Indoor Stadium and Phog Allen plenty, to Indiana, Gonzaga and went to school at Arizona.

But this had a different feel than anything else the sport had ever seen. Rick Pitino went from Kentucky to Louisville, but there were five years in-between. This was the biggest game in Lubbock in more than a decade, since Nov. 1, 2008 when No. 1 Texas and Colt McCoy came to Lubbock against No. 7 Texas Tech and then-coach Mike Leach. 

The hope is this can give Texas Tech fans some level of closure and eventually they can appreciate what he helped build in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were 75-30 with Beard at the helm, and also went to an Elite Eight in 2018. While Adams and the Red Raiders don’t seem to have missed a beat, what the duo of Beard and Adams combined to accomplish in Lubbock is remarkable.

Even though the fan base isn’t ready to forgive him, his former players — those who stayed loyal to Lubbock and Texas Tech — are ready to move on.

“It was the right decision for him. It’s a business decision,” Shannon said. “You gotta do what’s best for you. Can’t please everybody. He thought it was a better opportunity and took it. It never hurt me. It’s all business.”