MINNEAPOLIS — Chris Beard has described his decade under Bob Knight at Texas Tech as a doctoral program in coaching.
Every day, he joked, was like getting a Ph.D. His mentor hasn’t forgotten about one of his most prized pupils.
“I’m tickled to death he’s done the kind of job he’s done,” Knight told The Post in a rare, but brief, phone interview this week, as his protégé prepared to lead Texas Tech into its first Final Four this weekend in Minneapolis. “I think he’s done pretty damn good.”
After spending two years in the junior college ranks, Beard joined Knight at Texas Tech in 2001. Knight and son, Pat, were looking for players at the junior college level in the spring of 2001, when the elder Knight came across Beard at Seminole State College in Oklahoma. They were in need of an assistant coach and Beard won over the notoriously hard-to-impress Knight almost immediately.
“I’m sold on him,” Bob, taken by Beard’s personable character and coaching chops, told Pat.
“That was pretty rare,” said Pat, now an NBA scout with the Pacers. “It was kind of impressive. I thought it would take us a while. It has to be a certain guy that could work with Coach.”
Bob, 78, left it up to his son, who was just as impressed by Beard when he came to campus. He hired him that day, and the two became very close, Pat describing their relationship as that of “brothers.” Beard stayed there for a decade, part of four NCAA Tournament teams, including one group that reached the Sweet 16. Bob retired during the 2007-08 season and Pat took over. But he was fired after the 2010-11 campaign.
Beard didn’t click with the new coach, Billy Gillispie, and was forced to take a circuitous route back to Division I basketball. First, he coached in the ABA with the South Carolina Warriors, then in the Division II ranks at McMurry University and Angelo State College in Texas.
“If I hadn’t gotten fired, there’s was no way he would’ve gone through all that crap,” Pat Knight said.
Beard, 46, worked his way back to big-time college basketball, leading Arkansas Little-Rock to a 30-5 season in 2015-16 and an NCAA Tournament victory. He then made the leap to Texas Tech, two weeks after he had accepted the head job at UNLV.
In just his third season in Lubbock, Beard led the third-seeded Red Raiders to the Final Four, defeating the top two West Region seeds — No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Michigan — to reach Minneapolis. Texas Tech, the nation’s top-rated team in adjusted defensive efficiency, has allowed just 57 points per game in the tournament on 37.1 percent shooting from the field and 22 percent from 3-point range.
“So many people [think you win] by scoring points, but preventing points being scored enables you to win,” Bob said.
“My dad’s teams were always known for playing hard, and that’s all Tech does. They play hard every game,” Pat added. “That’s one of the most difficult things to coach with kids, to get them to play hard every game, and that’s an unbelievable battle he’s overcome. It’s not sexy, there’s no statistic, but it wins a lot of games.”
The younger Knight gets emotional talking about Beard, believing his own inability to keep the job at Texas Tech stunted his good friend’s career. But there are no hard feelings. They remain very tight, frequently texting each other.
“It kinds of gives you goose bumps,” he said. “You get emotional about it. It’s really cool. I know what he went through after he left Tech. It’s a great story, but it’s not a fluke. You see what he’s done everywhere he’s been as a head coach. This was coming.
“This is how much I like him,” Pat added with a laugh, “I’m rooting for a school that fired me.”