Late nights, back tats and chasing titles with Chris Beard

Chris Beard is a college basketball nomad of sorts, having spent time coaching at numerous levels before landing his first Power 5 job at Texas Tech. John Weast/Getty Images

LUBBOCK, Texas -- For someone who tore his ACL a month ago, Chris Beard doesn't act like it. There are no crutches, no noticeable braces on his knee.

"I can't tear it again," the Texas Tech coach said.

He owns only two suits, and he has a motivational phrase that was turned into a back tattoo two seasons ago.

And Beard, in his first Power 5 head-coaching job after more than 25 years of coaching, is preparing for a game against Trae Young and Oklahoma in about 18 hours.

At this point on the night of Feb. 12, there's not much surface area remaining on the long conference room table inside Texas Tech's basketball offices.

There's an Urban Meyer book, an article about Nick Saban, a slew of spiral notebooks, Chick-fil-A milkshakes, plus some country albums and Taylor's Pride chewing tobacco.

It is West Texas, after all.

It's nearing midnight, and Beard isn't ready to call it a night just yet. For the past four hours, the Tech staff has been watching the final five minutes of every Oklahoma game since December.

"I can tell you're getting tired because you're making the clips shorter and shorter," Beard jokes to director of player development Max Lefevre.

With the clock heading toward 12:30 a.m., Oklahoma's late-game tendencies become fairly apparent after just a couple of games, but Beard doesn't want to overlook anything.

The next night, the meticulous film watching pays off.

With 4 minutes, 35 seconds left against Oklahoma, Texas Tech was up by one point in front of a sold-out crowd at the United Supermarkets Arena. The Red Raiders end up outscoring Oklahoma by nine in the final five minutes, winning 88-78 and staying in position for the program's first Big 12 Conference title.

Befallen by injuries in the final three weeks of the season, Texas Tech finished tied for second in the Big 12 standings, two games behind Kansas. Now fully healthy, the Red Raiders defeated Stephen F. Austin and Florida during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, and face 2-seed Purdue on Friday night.

"These are the kinds of things we envisioned when we came here," Beard said after the Oklahoma game.

Beard's journey to national coach of the year contender is more than just a lot of long nights in the film room.

The late-night film session comes off more as seven or eight basketball junkies hanging out watching ball and swapping stories. They're all basketball lifers who have arrived at Texas Tech (26-9, 11-7 in the Big 12) and put the Red Raiders within range of their first-ever Elite Eight appearance.

There are assistant coaches: Chris Ogden, a native of Seminole, Texas, who played and coached at Texas under Rick Barnes for 16 years; Mark Adams, a Texas Tech graduate who has been a head coach at the junior college, Division II and NAIA levels; Al Pinkins, who has spent time at five schools since 2003; Brian Burg, the team's chief of staff who coached at two junior colleges before moving to the Division I level; and Lefevre, from France, who has been with Beard since Division II Angelo State; plus former Oklahoma State head coach Sean Sutton is an adviser on staff.

And Beard might be the biggest nomad of the group.

The native of Irving, Texas, made stops at Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian and North Texas before becoming a head coach at the junior college level, at Fort Scott Community College (Kansas) and Seminole State College (Oklahoma). He then made the jump back to Division I as a Texas Tech assistant coach under Bob Knight for 10 seasons. Stops in the ABA with the South Carolina Warriors and at Division II McMurry University and Angelo State followed. He also spent eight weeks as an assistant coach with the Swiss national team, led by Houston Rockets forward Clint Capela, in the summer of 2014 during the qualifying portion of the European Basketball Championship.

Beard then got a call from Little Rock, which had been to one NCAA tournament in the previous 25 years and had won one tourney game in program history.

But Beard didn't go into the job anticipating a long rebuild for the Trojans -- and that goes for his time at Texas Tech, too.

"I've never been wired like that," he said. "The story of my life has always been, you've got one shot to do this. I just remember as a kid. Where I grew up in Irving, we played [basketball] at two places. ... You had to win or go home. ... I've always thought that in coaching. You've got one shot, let's roll. Because eventually that's what our sport comes to. When you get to March, you've got one shot. The quicker you can get that mindset, it gets you ready for those moments."

Beard brought in 10 newcomers for his lone season at Little Rock, including nine transfers. They finished 30-5 -- a 17-win improvement from the year before -- and won the Sun Belt regular-season title for the first time since 1988.

And when Little Rock was slotted opposite 5-seed Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Beard got creative.

To prepare for the NCAA tournament, most coaching staffs will split up on Selection Sunday right after the field is announced. Some of the coaches will take their first-round opponent, while others will begin to scout both potential second-round opponents.

But Beard wanted to try something different.

"I just always had a vision like, we're going to get to this point one day and we're going to put everything we can into that first round," he said. "So that first night at Little Rock, when we got back to the office: 'Hey guys, here's what we're going to do. Everybody in our program is going to work on Purdue.' We basically said, let's see if we can shock the world and win one game."

Little Rock knocked off Purdue in two overtimes.

Less than one month later, after a brief three-week stint at UNLV, Beard was hired at Texas Tech.

About that back tattoo ...

Little Rock was 7-0 to start the 2015-16 season, with road wins over San Diego State and Tulsa. The Trojans were set to play on the road against DePaul.

While on the drive to the arena -- which included the team blaring pregame music on a speaker to keep everyone awake -- they passed a string of tattoo parlors. Beard kept that in mind a couple of hours later for his pregame speech.

"I said, 'All right, guys, here's the deal. No motivation tonight. We win the game, right after the game, you have my word -- we will get on the bus, we will go to the tattoo parlor, and me and Adams will get inked up,'" Beard said.

Little Rock went out and beat DePaul by 22 -- but the tattoo parlor was closed.

"When I give you my word, I'm gonna keep my word," Beard said. "To me, it was important. So we finish that year at Little Rock, I always knew that I was going to do it. So I went and got '4 to 1' tattooed on my back. And I sent it to all the Little Rock players: 'Word kept. Promise kept.'"

The "4 to 1" tattoo is a reference to an old Bob Knight saying: In basketball, the mental is to the physical as four is to one. In other words, mental toughness outweighs physical toughness.

That's Beard in a nutshell: a spur-of-the-moment, story-telling entertainer who still blends in discipline-oriented principles of his mentor. Beard's attention to detail has permeated the entire Texas Tech program and built the Red Raiders into a Big 12 title contender in only two seasons.

There are certain things Texas Tech players do on a daily basis. They weigh in three times per day (when they wake up, before practice, after practice). They eat six times a day, with most monitored by team dietitian John Boesch. Strength and conditioning coach John Reilly tracks water intake during practices. They also lift weights three or four times per week, even during the season, with a few exceptions.

"I've always thought that in coaching. You've got one shot, let's roll. Because eventually that's what our sport comes to. When you get to March, you've got one shot. The quicker you can get that mindset, it gets you ready for those moments."
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard

There's also something called the "300-shot club," where the players get in the gym and make 300 shots before practice -- and there's a peer pressure component to getting it done.

"We expect people to be able to make certain shots when they get in a game," senior guard Keenan Evans said. "If you're going to take that shot, you're going to have to be shooting that in the gym, after hours or before hours. You better be able to make it or at least say you put up shots to be able to take that shot."

It's part of a culture that Beard uses to bring his program together. As practice ended the day before the Oklahoma game, Beard set up a few clips of video to watch. And sitting there watching video was everybody involved in the program, from the trainer and strength coach to the nutritionist and Beard's office assistant.

In an increasingly private college basketball world, that's unique.

"Nothing is separate," Reilly said.

"Getting shots up is not more important than lifting. And lifting is not more important than watching film," redshirt junior Brandone Francis said. "I feel like it's just a process that we got, that we've been doing for a year now. And I think it's paying off. That's our culture. That we created, that Coach Beard created here."

Beard has a weekly radio appearance that he does at Rudy's, a Texas barbecue chain. When he did them last season, only a handful of people showed up to watch -- and Beard said it's likely they were there just to eat dinner, not for his radio show.

The place is packed the day before the Oklahoma game, though, with Texas Tech colors or Red Raiders gear on nearly everyone.

And Beard mentions a mantra often repeated in different variations by players and coaches around the program.

"We're not trying to make a tournament," he said on his radio show. "We're trying to win a tournament. [Freshmen] Zhaire [Smith] and [Jarrett] Culver didn't come here to finish fifth or sixth."

When Beard took over for Tubby Smith in 2016, Texas Tech was coming off its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007. The Red Raiders hadn't finished higher than third in the conference standings since joining the Big 12 in 1996. Their last conference title came when they were still in the Southwest Conference.

But Beard didn't set his goals to reach the NCAA tournament as a middle-of-the-pack team in the league.

"As much as I love it here, I'm a selfish coach that wants to win a championship," he said. "Winning's everything. If we're finishing fourth here in my home state or I can go finish first in Egypt, I'd probably rather be in Egypt."

So he set out with a plan to bring Texas Tech to the top of the league.

The idea of finding gaps and then finding ways to bridge those gaps is another common refrain within the program.

In Beard's mind, it's not overly complicated. They're going to play man-to-man defense; they're going to run the motion offense; and they're going to prepare for each game the same way.

"At the core of it, there's just a simplicity," Beard said. "Here's what we do, here's who we are. Beat us if you can."

At the same time, Beard is fond of crediting his players, current and former, for most of his success. And at Texas Tech, there's a wide mix of guys on the roster. There were several holdovers from the Smith era; there are a couple of junior college transfers, there's Italian import Davide Moretti; there are a couple of freshmen; and there are a couple of Division I transfers.

The only high school hype any of these guys had? Francis was an ESPN 100 prospect before committing to Florida in the Class of 2014, and center Tommy Hamilton was once considered on the same level as Jabari Parker when they were early in their Chicago high school careers.

Beard wouldn't have it any other way.

"He talked about it during the recruiting process, just being dedicated to basketball. If you're a hooper, you kind of love that," Culver said. "You kind of love all the things we have at this program."

Despite falling short of a Big 12 title, this is already one of the best teams in Texas Tech history. Its tally of 26 wins is the most the program has seen since the 1995-96 season, and the Red Raiders are only the third team in program history to reach 25 wins in a season. The second-place finish is the highest the team has finished since it entered the Big 12. And if they beat Purdue on Friday, it will be the team's first trip to the Elite Eight -- after losing in the Sweet 16 on five occasions.

"We have done the same thing over and over the last two years," Francis said. "It's paying off now."

Beard has listened to the same song three times in a car ride that lasted about 15 minutes round-trip.

He picks up the CD. It's the Maines Brothers Band, a country group from Lubbock that has one of its members working as the director of event operations for the Texas Tech athletic department.

"Amarillo Highway" is the song.

"Look up the lyrics," Beard said. "You'll have to Google the towns."

Plainview. Idalou. New Deal. All small towns in West Texas.

Beard doesn't have to Google them, though. He knows these towns.

He is West Texas.

He is Texas Tech.

And right now, in his home state, he has the Red Raiders on the cusp of program history.