The jokes were easy because they were so obvious. Who willingly packs up and leaves Las Vegas for Lubbock, Texas?
Chris Beard, of course, is the answer to the laughable riddle, but the new Texas Tech coach had his reasons. Namely three daughters and an affinity for the place built on 10 years there as an assistant coach.
Lost in the punchline approach to all of this, though, is that the Red Raiders are hardly the butt of the joke. They ended up with a great coach.
In one season at Little Rock -- his first as a Division I head coach -- Beard turned a hastily assembled group of 10 newcomers into 30-game winners and a team that won an NCAA tournament game in March. The Trojans trailed Purdue by 13 points with 3:33 left but won on the final buzzer, an 85-83 double-overtime thriller and Cinderella moment for a school that hadn’t won an NCAA game since 1986.
That victory, not to mention the runaway 17-3 record in the Sun Belt, made Beard an attractive hire for the big names and less than two weeks after that signature win, he was off to UNLV.
Three weeks later he was off to Texas Tech, ditching the Runnin’ Rebels before the ink could dry on his agreement, setting off the endless jokes and the requisite shouting over loyalty and jilting. Beard took the jokes and endured the criticism, trying to make folks understand that Texas Tech, where he spent years as both Bob and Pat Knight’s assistant, was his dream job, especially because his three daughters lived so close by.
Some people, especially and understandably UNLV fans and administrators, will never accept his rationale but there is no denying Beard is now where he wants to be.
And contentment ought to count for something.
That he walks into a pretty good situation -- far better than he would have had in Las Vegas -- certainly makes taking the heat easier. Tubby Smith, who bolted for Memphis, left Beard a team that already was coming out of the ashes, finishing 19-13 last year and in the NCAA tournament.
Though as as critical as last year was for the Red Raiders, there is still much work to be done. Texas Tech got into the NCAA field by the slimmest of margins, just 9-9 in the competitive Big 12. The defense ranked 10th in the league; the offense checked in at sixth.
Not that Beard is leaving things to the guys who are coming back alone. Just as he did at Little Rock, he’s gone to the junior college ranks for quick help (and with Texas stocked with juco talent, don’t expect that to change soon).
Shadell Millinghaus and Niem Stevenson each earned junior college All-American honors this past season. Millinghaus, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Northwest Florida State, averaged 16.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.7 steals per game this season to earn honorable mention All-American honors. He started his career at Southern Miss, averaging 8.6 points per game, but after seven games he asked for and was granted his release to transfer, unhappy with playing time.
Stevenson spent two seasons at Seward County Community College, averaging 24.7 points per game as a sophomore to earn first team All-American honors. A prolific scorer, the combo guard could help replace some of the offense lost with Gotcher and Williams.
Certainly no one expects the Red Raiders to challenge Kansas for Big 12 prominence in the next year. But with Beard, a man who actually wants to be in Lubbock as opposed to reluctantly visit, Texas Tech at least has a stable foundation to keep building on.
And that’s no joke.