Texas coaching candidates: Could John Calipari, Rodney Terry be Chris Beard’s replacement?

When Texas announced on April 1, 2021 that it had hired Chris Beard, it seemed to bode well for both high-level success and long-term stability for the program. Beard was a coaching supernova who, in just six years as Division I head coach, had guided Texas Tech to the 2018 Elite Eight and the 2019 NCAA Championship game, where it lost to Virginia in overtime. For that accomplishment, Beard was rewarded a few weeks later with a six-year contract that averaged more than $4.5 million a year.

Beard would leave such a lucrative job for only one place — Texas, where he graduated in 1995 after working as a student manager. Texas gave Beard a modest raise from what he earned at Lubbock, but the school didn’t just appeal to his wallet. It spoke to his heart. As long as he was winning at a reasonable level, it seemed like he could stay in Austin for a long, long time.

That time ended Thursday when Texas fired Beard following his Dec. 12 arrest for third-degree assault. The shocking, sudden end of that partnership has sent the program into turmoil in the midst of a season that began with high hopes. A week before Beard’s arrest, the Longhorns had risen to No. 2 on the AP Top 25. They’re currently sixth, although they’ll likely be lower next week after Tuesday’s home loss to Kansas State. The only good thing about Friday’s announcement is that the program is no longer clouded by the uncertainty of Beard’s indefinite suspension. But that’s the only good thing that can be said about it.

When Beard was initially suspended, assistant head coach Rodney Terry was named as his interim replacement, and the school has named him acting head coach for the remainder of this season. Where does Texas go from here? That’s just another question in a season that’s suddenly become full of it.

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There aren’t many programs that have a bigger gap between perception and performance. Ask any college basketball coach for a list of the top jobs in America, and Texas will top the list, owing to its access to all the football money and its location in the booming capital of Austin. The Longhorns also just opened the Moody Center, a state-of-the-art, $375 million home base that has the potential to be one of the greatest home bases in the sport. The Moody Center holds 15,000 for concerts, but that capacity is reduced to around 10,000 for basketball for a more intimate bandbox feel. That also speaks to the limited interest in basketball, as there are many locations across the country that can fill a 15,000-seat venue. And of course, more than 100,000 fans regularly flock to Memorial Stadium to watch a Texas football program that hasn’t contested a national championship in 13 years.

That, of course, speaks to the primary knock against Texas men’s basketball — that it’s a “football school.” This helps explain why Texas basketball has so little to show for its many assets. The Longhorns are NCAA tournament regulars, but they have only appeared in three Final Fours in their history and only one since 1947. So we have a job that has many benefits but comes with high expectations – and not much reason to believe they can be met.

Texas’ upcoming move to the SEC isn’t having many implications for basketball. At the end of the day, this is still a plum job that pays extremely well and the school will consider many attractive candidates.

call log

(in alphabetic order)

John Calipari, Kentucky head coach. Calipari’s name is often thrown around for jobs (mainly by people “close” to Calipari, and presumably at his behest), but most of the time the specter of him leaving Lexington is hardly worth considering. UCLA found that out in 2019 when it had enough substantive discussions with Calipari that he was able to capitalize on the school’s interest in a lifetime contract from Kentucky that pays him over $8 million a year. Given the current struggles in Kentucky and the fan base’s impatience to match, the idea that Calipari would actually leave this time around is much more believable. Would Texas be willing to pay him what he earns in Kentucky and maybe more? Possibly. Would Calipari be willing to take a pay cut to make the move? Possibly. Timing this is a challenge for Calipari, as he’ll no doubt be asked about it for the rest of the season (although he’s usually found guesses about his next move very useful). This remains a long way off, but it’s nowhere near as long as it seemed a few months ago.

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Dennis Gates, Missouri head coach. Gates’ name wouldn’t have been on this list two weeks ago, but now that he has the Tigers back in the top 25 after stunning victories over Illinois and Kentucky, he deserves some attention. Whether he actually takes that job will depend mostly on whether Missouri can keep him going for the rest of the season, but also on how deep Gates’ desire is to succeed Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, where Gates spent eight years worked as an assistant coach. Gates is in Missouri in Year 1 after leading Cleveland State to the NCAA tournament.

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Dennis Gates wins big in his first season in Missouri. (Jay Biggerstaff / USA Today)

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann. Holtman is well-respected and well-paid, and if he wants to coach Ohio State for a while, he probably can. But he’s also in his sixth season in Columbus and has yet to lead the Buckeyes to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. How long before the natives get restless? A move to Texas would give Holtmann a new watch and a fresh start, and it would give Texas a proven coach with a sparkling clean reputation.

Royal Ivey, Brooklyn Nets assistant. Ivey is basically the beginning and end of the list of former Longhorns with the coaching credentials to take on the job. He’s never been a head coach in the US, but he’s played 10 years in the NBA (few players have gotten more out of their talent) and he’s spent 6 years as an assistant with the Thunder, Knicks and Nets. He has also been the head coach of the South Sudanese national team since 2021. It would be difficult to sell fans a man with such limited head coaching experience, but given Ivey’s relationship with the program, the school at least owes him a courtesy interview. Maybe he’ll impress you enough to take a closer look.

Eric Musselman, Arkansas head coach. Musselman is only in his fourth year at Fayetteville, but he has already led the Hogs to two Elite Eights and has a chance to take them there again this season. He, too, recently signed a long-term renewal that is bringing him more than $4 million annually. He has everything he could want in Arkansas except one thing – a big city. Musselman trained in the NBA and has spent a lot of time on the West Coast. It was an open secret last year that if Andy Enfield had gone to Maryland, he would have been very interested in USC. Musselman would be interested in speaking to Texas. If the school could make that adjustment, it would have the added benefit of beating a future SEC rival in the knee in the process.

Nate Oats, Alabama head coach. Oats has the same appeal as Musselman, although his teams haven’t had the same success in the NCAA tournament. Oats has also done an excellent job over the four years at Buffalo. During that time, he led the Bulls to three NCAA tournaments and two second-round appearances, reaching the Sweet 16 with Alabama in 2021. Not only do Oats’ teams win, but they’re also very entertaining, which is essential to the appeal of a football school is.

Kelvin Sampson, Houston head coach. When Texas is looking for an in-state coach who is a proven winner, look no further. Sampson did an incredible job of revitalizing a ailing program in Houston, and he’s put the Cougars in position to be No. 1 in both Monday morning polls. On the other hand, Sampson’s history of NCAA violations in Oklahoma and Indiana could be difficult to overcome. And from Sampson’s point of view, he would leave a job where he makes good money and has all the stability he wants. The wild card in all of this is Sampson’s son, Kellen, who is his senior assistant and designated successor in Houston. It’s unlikely Sampson would make that move unless Houston promises it will hire Kellen, or Texas promises the same.

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Rodney Terry, acting Texas head coach. Most fans are just now hearing about Terry, 54, but people in basketball circles have known him for a long time — and hold him in high esteem. A native of Texas, Terry got his first job as a head coach at Somerville High School. After serving as an assistant at Baylor, UNC Wilmington and Texas (9 years under Rick Barnes), Terry joined Fresno State in 2011, where he won 53.8 percent of his games in six years. He accepted the UTEP job in 2018, but Beard convinced him to take the unconventional step of leaving a boss job to become his assistant head coach at Austin. Terry has a thoughtful, measured demeanor that should serve him well in his efforts to navigate the current turmoil. The question is, can he steer it well enough to convince the school to make him permanent coach?

Jay Wright, former coach of Villanova. This is most likely a short call, but Texas needs to at least make the call. By all signs, Wright is enjoying life as a former coach-turned-broadcaster, and now that the games are underway, he says he misses the action even less than he thought. It would take an extraordinary situation to get Wright back on the grind. There is a very short list of jobs that would qualify, but this could be one of them.

The smart money is on…

terry cloth. There is plenty of precedent for a coach in Terry’s situation doing well enough to be named head coach at the end of the season. From Steve Fisher, who took over Michigan at the start of the 1989 NCAA tournament and led the Wolverines to the national championship, to Isaac Brown, who was named interim coach at Wichita State before the start of the 2020-21 season after Gregg Marshall was fired, can Terry can draw on many examples from the past to figure out how to hire him. The best way, of course, is to win big. Terry has a huge advantage over all other candidates as he already has a relationship with the current players. Losing your head coach like this is undoubtedly traumatic, but if the players like Terry as much as they say it should give them another reason to play for. If the Longhorns can put the pain of Beard’s departure behind them, regroup and compete in the NCAA tournament, they will have both the satisfaction of their own success and the joy of knowing they got Terry the job.

(Top Photo by Rodney Terry: Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

https://theathletic.com/4061788/2023/01/05/texas-coaching-candidates-calipari-terry-beard/ Texas coaching candidates: Could John Calipari, Rodney Terry be Chris Beard’s replacement?

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