MINNEAPOLIS -- Chris Beard might as well be known as the king of making things work.
It's an approach the Associated Press Coach of the Year took when he embarked on a major rebuild at Texas Tech three years ago. In that short span, Beard turned the Red Raiders into a Big 12 powerhouse embarking on its first Final Four one year after losing six of their eight leading scorers from a team that made it to the Elite Eight.
At the core of Beard's way of getting things done is a no-frills approach to maximize opportunities -- a type of resourcefulness he has used as much in recruiting talent to build his programs as he did rising on his own through the ranks of college coaching.
"Just a few years ago, I was in the ABA or D-II, and that's the special part about this," Beard said. "I don't take that lightly. I even talked to my team about it. ... It's about when I was an assistant and you come to the Final Four and you don't have a room, and you just beg one of your buddies that's in Division I to crash on their floor. I've been in a lot of rooms where it's two guys in each bed without the comforters because you got two more people on the floor with the comforters, and then one maybe in the bathroom bathtub with the pillows. We put eight deep before in a Marriott Courtyard, I promise you.
"The problem is in the mornings with the towel situation because I'm not really a big believer -- I guess I'll share a bar of soap if you wash it really good, but I'm not sharing a towel with any other man, you know? But we used to come to the Final Fours and bring our own towels, true story."
Beard's humorous version of slumming it over the years during college basketball's biggest weekend embodies what his coaching confidants describe as a blue-collar guy with a chip on his shoulder. His path has taken a circuitous route through the ranks; a journey that started in 1991 and wound through junior colleges, small schools and the defunct American Basketball Association before he reached Lubbock, marking stop No. 11 on his coaching trek years after serving as an assistant for the Red Raiders under Bob Knight and Pat Knight from 2001 to 2011.
The way this journeyman coach got to the Final Four looks vastly different from how heavyweights like Tom Izzo, Bruce Pearl and Tony Bennett reached the same pinnacle of college basketball with their respective programs.
Developing a sense of tenacity, ingenuity and mental toughness came through the wealth of experience he gained at every level imaginable, each stop shaping Beard for where he is now, on the brink of playing for a national title.
From Fort Scott Community College to the South Carolina Warriors of the ABA, to Division III McMurry, Division II Angelo State and his first Division I gig at Little Rock, Beard has won everywhere he has been. He has built Texas Tech into a consistent contender along the way while reaffirming the program's identity as a defensive stalwart.
Many who have followed his similar paths haven't come close to reaching this level. It's unconventional, often categorized as the route of the underdog. It's what perfectly describes everything Beard stands for, and how he has found a way to win quickly and win big.
"It's just amazing to watch his path, because there is no blueprint in college coaching to say, hey, if you follow this path, then it's going to lead you to being a head coach in Division I," Angelo State coach Cinco Boone said. "He believed in that vision, he knew he could do it at Texas Tech. He was so close last year, being in the Elite Eight, and getting beat by Villanova, but he knew right then and there that he could get it done. And so here he is again, now in the Final Four, having a chance to win that last game on a Monday night. I just think that now he's at a place that he can do that."
Recruiting on a budget
Danny Kaspar knew from the start how Beard's resourcefulness would pay dividends down the line. Kaspar hired the then-23-year-old Beard as a graduate assistant at Incarnate Word in 1995 (then an NAIA program), where one of many responsibilities included raising funds to bolster a next-to-nothing recruiting budget.
Both Beard and Steve Lutz, a current assistant at Purdue who served as a volunteer graduate assistant under Kaspar, were tasked with selling $1,500 worth of ads for the basketball team's media guide. Restaurants quickly became their go-to spot to gather the money they needed to fulfill their obligations.
"He'd come back and say, 'Coach, this guy says could he give us $300 in cash and $300 in coupons?'" recalled Kaspar, now coach at Texas State.
"Well, I fell for that, because after I got several of those in, I put the coupons in a blue bank bag in my briefcase. Him and Lutz started coming around at lunchtime asking for coupons to go eat. I always kidded him. I said, 'You guys set me up, man. I told you I needed $600 and y'all told the owners you could do coupons and all that just so I would feed you lunch all the time.'"
It was an introduction to the type of grind Beard would come to relish at his other stops. Recruiting trips taught the coach how to make the most out of what he had to work with.
Boone was part of many of those trips, having served on Beard's staff at McMurry before following him to Angelo State where eventually he took over as head coach after Beard left for Little Rock. The two were introduced by a mutual friend back in 2009 during a week-long camp Beard organized that many of his friends in coaching would come work.
The camp eventually morphed into a trip where close to 15 coaches got together in Concan, Texas, 80 miles west of San Antonio. The "Concan Brothers," which features a host of coaches who have risen to the Division I ranks including Chris Ogden (UT-Arlington) and Joe Golding (Abilene Christian), drank beer and talked everything from basketball to life to love while floating down the Frio River for hours.
Several years after meeting, Boone was in search of a new job and called Beard (dubbed the captain of the Concan Brothers), who hired him at McMurry. Their first week on the job included evaluating 50 recruits top to bottom. Then it was time to hit the road.
Instead of ponying up for a budget motel, the two spent several nights stretched out in Boone's wide-cab Dodge truck. Upon finishing dinner at Applebee's after visiting one recruit while preparing for another the next morning, Beard gave Boone the directions to what the assistant thought would be a hotel. Instead, it was a YMCA in Fort Worth, conveniently where their next recruit, Cameron Saville, was scheduled to work his morning shift as a lifeguard in a couple of hours.
"And so in we come [to the YMCA] in last night's clothes, at 6 a.m.," Boone recalled. "I'll never forget it for as long as I live. [Beard] said 'Hey, Cam, is there any way we could get a towel, and maybe a bar of soap? We'd really like to take a shower before we go to the next place. And we literally did. We took a shower in the YMCA, we put the last night's clothes back on, walked back out to the parking lot, and then changed into our new clothes in the parking lot, and then we were onto the next recruit. That was day one of being on the road with Chris Beard and I'm thinking, this is going to be a crazy ride."
Beard's knack for finding overlooked players and developing them into NBA prospects began long before he reached Texas Tech. In his first full-time assistant role at Abilene Christian in the mid-1990s, Beard discovered Kendrick White while on a trip to Houston, a lightning-quick point guard who was nicknamed "Nuke."
"Chris called me and said, coach, I found a kid that we can get, but we need to get on him hard and as quick as possible cause nobody's offered yet, and he's averaging almost 30 points a game as well," former Abilene Christian coach Shanon Hays remembered.
There was just one issue: White was 5-foot-2.
Beard eventually convinced Hays to sign the point guard, who became a key contributor that season. After Beard made the jump to North Texas, Hays was still able to reap the benefits of his assistant's recruiting efforts.
Beard has compiled a winning record everywhere he has been a head coach. Applying the same approach he used in the juco and small college ranks in constructing his roster at the big-time program Texas Tech is becoming, has allowed the Red Raiders to take down blue-blood programs while establishing themselves among college basketball's elite.
"This is what you do every year at junior college, and that was his first job as a head coach," said UT-Arlington's Ogden, who coached with Beard at Texas Tech. "You piece together teams in one year's time, and you get the best out of people in that moment, and you don't wait, and there is no down the road. And so it's just the way he lives and the way he is as a person. And so he's confident, he's passionate, and he's not afraid to talk about believing in winning a championship. You gotta believe it first. And so he'll speak it the second he steps on any campus."
Reaching the Final Four
Wes Flanigan didn't have to spend long with Chris Beard to learn just how diligent Beard was at living up to his promises.
During Beard's one season at Little Rock, the Trojans compiled a 30-5 record and beat Purdue in the round of 32 in 2016. A bet was made between Beard and his players before the season that if Little Rock made it to the NCAA tournament, the coach would get a tattoo.
Without hesitation, Beard held to his word.
Etched in black ink on his back, Beard has "4:1" tattooed above his left shoulder with his three daughters' names (Avery, Ella and Margo) and the word "loyalty" as part of the design.
Having a front-row seat to watch one of the best coaches in history, Beard became a Bob Knight disciple. The former Texas Tech coach's saying that "mental toughness is to physical as four is to one" is more than just an inspirational quote Beard latched onto.
It's displayed everywhere around Texas Tech's facility because it's the overarching principle that embodies how this team carved through its Big 12 schedule while dismantling opponents with its defensive aggression in the tournament to reach the Final Four.
For Flanigan, who is now an assistant at Auburn after taking over for his mentor at Little Rock from 2016 to '18, "4:1" has become a mantra for his life.
"I've been through a lot of ups and downs in my life and if people knew the meaning of what 4:1 is, they would never give up, they would never get down about whatever situation it is," Flanigan said. "You stay tough, you keep fighting and you live to see the next day. And for me in my life going through bone cancer, obviously being terminated at a few stops in college basketball, now to be back at Auburn, my alma mater, being assistant coach, to be giving back, but also to be here playing here for national championship. That's what 4:1 is to me."
Like Auburn, Texas Tech is a national semifinalist for the first time in program history. It comes as little surprise to many who know Beard that he would eventually reach this stage. Doing it with the Red Raiders among a college basketball landscape littered with blue-blood programs is no small feat.
"Am I surprised he got Texas Tech to the Final Four? Yes," Kaspar said. "That's not the kind of job even great coaches can usually get. There's a lot of coaches that would look at Texas Tech as, 'Eh, that's a bottom half of the Big 12 job.' I mean, look what Chris has done with that."
Carving out a place for Texas Tech in the Big 12 picture that has been dominated by Kansas for the past decade is part of Beard's rise in becoming one of the hottest coaches in college basketball.
His path to the Final Four is rooted on striking when opportunity arises, no matter when or where. It has led him to accept incredible opportunities as they were presented and having the guts to take on even bigger challenges regardless of circumstance (Beard was at UNLV for 19 days before he accepted the Tech job in 2016).
Beard's experience isn't characterized by longevity within one particular program, like the coach he'll square off against on Saturday night (Izzo has been the head coach of Michigan State since 1995), but his ability to rebuild teams along the way and leave them in better shape than when he took over has been a constant throughout his career.
The dream he'll live out Saturday doesn't just reflect his career as a Division I coach. It's the painstaking process it took to get here for himself and for every other coach with the same goals.
"I wouldn't trade my coaching path for anything," Beard said. "Whether it be the junior college or ABA or small college, very, very blessed to be here and feel like I represent a lot of people on this stage that have coached at schools that are really good coaches that have coached great players and never had the chance under these lights. I hope coaches around there find some satisfaction in this."