Chris Beard on the process that lead Texas Tech to the national championship game
Two hours before tipoff and Chris Beard was already coaching.
His players were out of position.
“Guys drop your bags,” Beard shouted in the hallway outside Texas Tech’s locker room Saturday night. His players were about to watch the end of the first half of the Final Four’s opening semifinal between Auburn and Virginia.
But not before some instructions.
“No phones. No headphones. No bags,” Beard said. “We got three minutes to watch. First minute look around a little bit.”
Such is the experience of playing for a man as detail oriented as Beard.
He would have to sleep in his car to coach a low-level professional team, but there were no restrictions on practice time, which he loved: “It was really like a basketball vacation. I kind of lost myself in the game that year.”
As a Division II coach, he’d pick a team like Michigan State or Duke to follow for the season, not because they were on the schedule, but to “follow their journey.”
After arriving in Lubbock, he would have each player’s keys to shooting free throws posted in Tech’s bathroom. Every moment, even one conducted in private, is an opportunity to improve.
“He’s wired 24/7,” said senior Norense Odiase, who along with roommate and redshirt junior Andrew Sorrells have been coached by Beard for all three of his seasons in Lubbock.
“His attention to detail is unparallelled,” Odiase continued. “He grinds it out … He says he’s not the smartest, but he’s going to out tough you.
“We all follow after that.”
The Red Raiders have tapped into that contagious energy and reached the national championship game against Virginia at 8:20 p.m. Central time Monday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We have a process that we believe in,” Beard said Sunday. “It has the academic piece. It has the individual work, the shooting, the team practice, the film, the conditioning, the diet, the sleep — all those things go into our process.”
The day before Texas Tech’s semifinal victory against Michigan State, when fans could watch the four teams work out for 50 minutes each, practices mainly consisted of shooting drills and dunks.
Beard ran his team through a 30-second timeout drill.
He sent his starters to the other end of the court, took a few steps toward the scorers’ table and formed his hands into a T.
The starters rushed back to the bench. Managers climbed the steps and unfolded chairs on the elevated court. The rest of the team jumped up, clapping and shouting. Beard entered the huddle.
Then it was time to do it again.
Sorrells said some of these drills have replaced sprints and toughness exercises — “shaking the tree,” he called it — that Beard employed in his first season, when Tech finished 18-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament.
“Your first year Elite Eight, and now second year national championship,” Sorrells said of his new teammates. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
But Beard keeps his newcomers on their toes, literally. Take graduate transfer Matt Mooney’s first trip to The Yoga Stand in Lubbock, where the Red Raiders’ strength and conditioning coach John Reilly practiced hot flow yoga with his players in a studio where the temperature will exceed 90 degrees.
Freshman Kyler Edwards felt the burn too, holding the downward dog pose for nearly two minutes — hands and feet grabbing all four corners of the mat, shoulders and core engaged, hips extended — as sweat began to drip and his arms started shaking.
“It was like 20 minutes in,” Mooney said. “I was looking at Coach like ‘Is this thing almost done.’ And he was like ‘We got like 45 more minutes.’”
Then there are Beard’s sayings.
“He’s like a human encyclopedia,” Sorrells said. “We had a white board at our apartment and we just started writing down funny things he would say.”
In the past week, Beard and his players have waxed on the following topics:
Street dogs: Beard, while accepting his AP coach of the year award, was asked by senior transfer Tariq Owens if he was a dog, what kind would he be. “With all due respect to pet store dogs, I really prefer street dogs,” Beard said. “They’ve got about 48 to live. And they live with a little more urgency, and they understand accountability and discipline a little bit better. They’re fortunate. They’re not entitled because they were in the pound, man.”
Smell the roses: Beard’s slogan for the Final Four: “That just means enjoying everything, but also then being us when it comes to basketball, and I think we’ve done that pretty well,” he said.
Thankful texts: Beard doesn’t want his players looking at their phones, but he will ask them to take them out on occasion to send a message of gratitude to someone in their life: “It’s very difficult to go out and be in a bad mood and have a bad practice if you send two thankful texts to somebody in your past.”
The secret is in the dirt: Sometimes you have to dig for what you want, as Mooney explained, it won’t always be sitting on the surface.
Clearing your plate: During a team meal, Sorrells said if Beard sees a player hand their plate to a worker, even if they kindly offered to throw it away, “he’ll get all over you about that.”
“Just because we’re having success doesn’t mean you can be entitled,” he said, “and he preaches a non-entitlement program.”
In his first season as a Division I coach three years ago, Beard finished 30-5 at Arkansas Little Rock, including a first-round NCAA win against Purdue. He won 30 games again this year after a 27-10 Elite Eight season a season ago.
But four years ago, Beard was in Division II. In 2012, he was coaching the ABA in South Carolina. He hasn’t forgotten those days, and he said he won’t even if he cuts down the nets Monday night in Minneapolis.
“I’ll be a guy that will wake up tomorrow just to try to put ourselves in a position to win,” Beard said, “and I’m sure when we wake up Tuesday it will be about recruiting and trying to get back.
“I don’t ever want to change who I am.”