Texas Tech AD on Beard Speculation: “We have a better job.”

NEW YORK — Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt knows they are coming. Everyone knows they are coming.

It’s not if they come after Chris Beard.

It’s when they come after him.

It could be Kansas if Bill Self gets hammered by the NCAA or bolts to the NBA, or maybe Arizona if Sean Miller gets hit hard. Shoot, North Carolina doesn’t have a clear-cut successor once soon-to-be 70-year-old Roy Williams retires.

But most of the speculation centers around that program less than 400 miles to the southeast, especially with Shaka Smart on the proverbial hot seat, and Beard’s coaching career being kick-started as a graduate assistant with the Texas Longhorns.

“We have a better job [than Texas],” Hocutt said moments after Chris Beard and the Red Raiders dispatched No. 1 Louisville, 70-57, without their leading scorer. “No doubt in my mind.”

“We played on Monday night,” he added. “We were 12 seconds away from raising the trophy.”

Beard provided further evidence that he should be in the discussion as the best coach in the country on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden, and should be at the top of every AD’s wish list. He’s taken Texas Tech, one of the most difficult jobs in the Big 12, to the Elite Eight and the national title game in successive seasons. Sure, he’s lost three straight — to the likes of Iowa, Creighton and DePaul — but all three have come with a team that has just three holdovers and without Jahmi’us Ramsey (17.3 ppg).

He didn’t have Ramsey again on Tuesday due to a hamstring injury, but Texas Tech somehow found a way to limit Louisville to just 57 points and All-American candidate Jordan Nwora to a 4-of-16 shooting performance.

A head-scratcher, but not with Beard at the helm.

This has become the norm.

“There’s no doubt in our mind we’ve got the best college basketball coach in America,” Hocutt said. “There’s nobody better. Not a better fit for Texas Tech than Chris Beard and not a better fit in my opinion for Chris Beard than Texas Tech.”

Beard deflected all the praise about being put in elite coaching company on his former and current players, past coaches and those on the staff — particularly Brian Burg and Mark Adams — who have helped Texas Tech enjoy unprecedented success in the last few years.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself as a coach because of the people I surround myself with,” Beard said. “Ultimately, though, it’s a players’ game … and we’ve had really good players.”

“I feel like I’ve got the best job in the country,” he added. “We’re supported at the highest level.”

The six-year, $27.6 million deal inked days after the national title game loss to Virginia last season is certainly evidence. So is the recent commitment to build a $30 million basketball center across from the United Supermarkets Arena.

“I feel like we can compete at the highest level and tonight was further validation of that,” Beard said.

A year ago against Zion Williamson and No. 2 Duke, the Red Raiders — who boasted a future lottery pick in Jarrett Culver — couldn’t hold on at the World’s Most Famous Arena and wound up losing by double-digits. But this time, a Texas Tech team in which walk-on Avery Benson logged 22 minutes, scored 10 points and played stellar defense held on against a Cardinals team expected to be a Final Four contender.

“Why not us?” Beard screamed at his players in the locker room during the post-game celebration.

Why not Beard remaining in Lubbock long-term?

For a while, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that he’d bolt for a more prestigious job, one that has enjoyed more tradition. A Top 10 job in the country.

Now I’m not so certain, and neither are those close to Beard.

“He fits in Lubbock, and knows it,” said one person close to Beard.

Beard was a virtual unknown a decade ago. Heck, few outside of the profession kept up with his whereabouts when he left Texas Tech as an assistant in 2011 and wound up coaching the ABA’s South Carolina Warriors, then jumped to McMurry College and Angelo State.

Now everyone in college basketball knows who Beard is after the most impressive run in the sport since Brad Stevens took Butler to consecutive national championship games in 2010 and 2011.

Beard hasn’t lost the junior college work ethic and grind, working at Fort Scott and Seminole JC, but isn’t a self-promoter who tells everyone how hard he works, looking for attention. In fact, it’s just the opposite. He’s stayed true to himself and the culture he’s built in Lubbock. He seems almost embarrassed by the praise that’s being heaped on him.

“He’s real,” said Texas Tech grad transfer Chris Clarke.

Beard has also proven he can recruit at a high level at Texas Tech, landing three players in the last three years ranked in ESPN’s Top 50 — including potential McDonald’s All-American and Chicago native Nimari Burnett, who has signed on to play in Lubbock for next season. He’s tough on his players, but is able to get them to play harder than the opponent on most nights — largely due to his relationships.

“He trusts me and I’ll do everything in my will to make sure he doesn’t get mad at me because that’s the one thing I don’t want,” Benson said. “To let him down.”

“I am scared of him,” Benson added. “I am scared of him, but I know he loves me like a son just like all of us.”

The win over Louisville gave Beard a 59-20 record in the last two-plus seasons, and more importantly, a resume win that could help turn the Red Raiders season. Beard and the Red Raiders have accomplished as much as any program in the country over that span, and while Beard is well-aware of the speculation that exists regarding his coaching future, he doesn’t seem overly concerned.

“We have everything here that we need to be successful,” Beard said.