When Bobby Knight took over as Texas Tech basketball coach in 2001, the Red Raiders had won only three NCAA tournament games since 1962 and had reached the tournament only six times in that stretch.
One of the first assistant coaches Knight hired was Chris Beard, the head coach at Seminole State Junior College. He remained an assistant at the school through 2011 under Knight and Pat Knight, who replaced his father when he retired in 2008.
Knight ended up coaching part of seven years with Texas Tech, and Beard was on the staff the entire time. They took the school to four NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 run in 2004-05. I was at all of those tournament games with Knight, who has long been a close personal friend.
“Yeah, I enjoyed what I was doing when I coached at Texas Tech,” Knight said this week from Bloomington, Ind. “It was an interesting situation and one we did pretty well at.”
While Knight didn’t have the same success he had at Indiana — a 662-239 record (.735) and three NCAA championships in 29 years — his .627 winning percentage was the best in Texas Tech history, with a 138-82 record.
That winning percentage has since been eclipsed by Beard (75-30, .714), who took over as head coach in 2016 and has the school in the Final Four for the first time in program history this weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I had [Beard] as an assistant coach for a while,” Knight recalled. “He worked hard. He learned that defense is how you win. I think he really paid attention and worked hard at learning to coach.”
Pat Knight recalled how Beard first came to be at Texas Tech in a story appearing in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Dad called me and said, ‘I found this kid and I think he would be great for us. He’s got everything we need.’ ”
In the lead-up to the Final Four, Beard talked about his relationship with Knight.
“I have heard back from several people that he sent his congratulations,” Beard said. “As always, Coach has been very supportive. He’s really been great the past three years since I’ve been back to Lubbock.”
When Beard returned to Texas Tech, he took over for former Gophers coach Tubby Smith, who coached there from 2013-16 before taking over at Memphis.
Beard said of Smith: “We inherited a good situation. Tubby Smith had gotten Texas Tech back to the NCAA tournament [in 2015-16]. When we walked into Tech, there was a culture of defense, there was a culture of accountability.”
Knight said that when he hired Beard, he knew the young assistant was going to be a strong defensive coach.
“He had to be good with the defense,” said Knight, who is in both the Basketball Hall of Fame (inducted in 1991) and the College Basketball Hall of Fame (2006). “You know, you do not win as he is winning without playing good defensively.”
There is no doubt about Beard’s ability to coach defense. Ken Pomeroy’s statistics at kenpom.com rank Texas Tech as the No. 1 defensive team in the country. It was No. 4 last year when Beard took Texas Tech to the Elite Eight.
“He worked hard at it, he learned how to coach and that is what he did,” Knight said. “He understood what was important in this thing. He did pretty well for himself.”
Does Knight, who coached in five Final Fours and won three, think Beard has a chance to win the tournament?
“Oh, how would I know?” he said with a laugh. “He has gotten there, so I would think that he would be pretty tough to play against.”
Huge coaching tree
A headline in the New York Post this week read: “The Bobby Knight disciple who has Texas Tech in the Final Four.”
Yes, everyone thought Mike Krzyzewski, another former Knight assistant coach at Army, was going to have the best chance at a national title. But after Duke’s 68-67 loss to Michigan State in the East Region final, Beard will be the lone Knight disciple in the Final Four.
Beard is only one of a long line of coaches who have studied and coached under Knight, including Krzyzewski, Mike Davis, Jim Crews, Bob Donewald, Dave Bliss, Bob Weltlich, Royce Waltman, Don DeVoe and Murry Bartow.
That list doesn’t include former players of Knight who also have had great coaching careers, such as Steve Alford, Randy Wittman and Mike Woodson.
Every time Krzyzewski was either involved in a Final Four or appearing as a guest, I spent time around him and got to be a close personal friend of his through Knight.
And for those who say the two great coaches don’t have a good relationship, that isn’t the case.
Knight introduced Krzyzewski when he was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. And when Krzyzewski passed Knight’s 902 career victories for the most wins in Division I college basketball history in 2011, Knight was there.
The New York Times reported at the time that Krzyzewski told Knight, “I know a lot of people don’t tell you this, Coach, but I love you.”
That’s long been Knight’s legacy, a tough but important figure in a lot of players’ and coaches’ lives. There’s no doubt Beard feels the same way.
Knight said that when it comes to his relationship with NCAA basketball these days, it’s a lot less stressful as he and his wife, Karen, spend a lot of time traveling and going out to dinner.
“I am still around, but I don’t pay attention to anything,” Knight said. “I don’t have to win any games. I don’t have to coach. We just have to take it easy.”