Chris Beard's 'Book Club': Texas Tech's rise no shock to coach's inner circle
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There are two things Chris Beard can't do, longtime friend Clif Carroll says. He can't cook. And he can't change a flat tire.

There's a lot that Beard, Texas Tech's third-year coach, can do - like recruit, develop, game plan, and motivate, which is why the Red Raiders are in their first Final Four this weekend.

But the story of Beard's rapid professional ascent begins with a flat tire in the parking lot of a cheap hotel in Port Arthur, Texas, seven years ago.

Beard, then 39 years old, was in the city to interview to become the head coach at Lamar State-Port Arthur, a community college. He had just spent the season coaching the South Carolina Warriors of the American Basketball Association, a tottering team in a tottering league, following the dismissal of the coaching staff at Texas Tech, where he had been an assistant.

He was driving a borrowed Kia through Port Arthur when he encountered a flat and called Carroll, who coached in nearby Beaumont, for help. Carroll met him at the scene.

"'Hey man, you did put on the parking brake, yeah?'" Carroll asked him. "He looked at me like I'm an idiot. 'Yes, of course.'"

They got the jack in place and took the tire off. Then Beard leaned on the car.

He didn't put on the parking brake.

"It knocked it off the jack," Carroll said. "And I can laugh about it now, but to see the level of frustration and … it was almost despair. It was almost like, 'What has my life come to? I'm supposed to be a Division I head coach ... after being at Texas Tech for 10 years.' He was supposed to be one of these guys - what he's doing now."

Beard took the job at Lamar State-Port Arthur, but never coached a game. Less than a week after accepting the position, he bolted for McMurry, a Division II program in Abilene, Texas. He spent a year there, two more at Division II Angelo State, and one at Arkansas-Little Rock before returning to Texas Tech in 2016. (That's not counting the 19 days he spent as UNLV's coach between Little Rock and Lubbock.)

Three years later, the coaching vagabond received the Associated Press' Coach of the Year award, right before he takes Texas Tech into a Final Four semifinal against Michigan State on Saturday in Minneapolis.

Beard's longtime circle of coaching buddies, who have watched his highs and lows, expressed no surprise.

"There's not one person that really knows Chris Beard that says, 'Man, this has come out of left field, we had no idea,'" said Carroll, now the head coach of Division III Sul Ross State in Alpine, Texas. "If somebody does tell you that, they don't really know him."

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They called themselves the "Book Club."

When Beard first hatched the idea, it actually involved reading.

"The first book was Jimmy Buffett's 'A Salty Piece of Land,'" said Chris Ogden, a former Tech assistant and the current head coach at UT Arlington.

Beard, Ogden, Carroll and a group of coaching friends began convening every Memorial Day weekend along the Frio River in Concan, Texas.

Beard's friends nicknamed him Captain. He organized the Concan trips during his time as a Texas Tech assistant. He created invitations. He directed Carroll, then a Red Raiders student manager, to burn some CDs with the country music they enjoyed, artists such as Merle Haggard and Gary P. Nunn. He mailed out Koozies to stir anticipation for the trip.

Ogden said the idea of reading books faded after the second selection, Buffett's "A Pirate Looks at Fifty." The trips were really about cold beverages and good company on a rare weekend off. Asked for his favorite story from the vacations, Carroll said it wasn't fit for publication.

But the camaraderie was vital for group of young coaches trying to climb the ladder.

"It's borderline a coaches' clinic," Ogden said. "We were floating the river, talking about all things life and some basketball every now and then."

They drifted in tubes, dreaming of doing what Beard is one game away from accomplishing - coaching on the final Monday of the college basketball season.

"He's still the Captain," Carroll said. "All of us have had good years, but ain't none of us been to the Final Four and what he's doing. So he's still being the Captain."

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When Beard took the job at McMurry, his first hire was Cinco Boone.

It was May, and they spent the first week on campus. Then they embarked on a weeklong trip across Texas in Boone's four-door Dodge pickup, visiting returning players in their hometowns and checking in on recruits.

Boone will never forget the first night. After visiting a recruit, the duo drove to an Applebee's for a late dinner. The next morning, they planned to meet a returning player at his lifeguard job at a YMCA in Fort Worth. They aimed to be there when the YMCA opened at 6 a.m.

They stayed at the Applebee's as long as they could, until about 2 a.m. When they got in the truck, Boone asked Beard what kind of hotel he wanted. On a tight budget, the options were a Motel 6 or a Super 8.

"I put the address in my GPS, I'll tell you. So just follow this GPS," Beard told Boone.

Boone drove for 20-25 minutes, he said, until he pulled into the parking lot of the YMCA.

"He said, 'Yeah, man, let's just sleep here for a couple hours and we'll wake up and go see the kid,'" Boone recalled. "I said 'OK.' So we hung our feet out the window and we slept."

The sun woke them up. They met the returning player and spoke to him for 30-45 minutes. Before they left, they asked for a favor: Could they borrow a couple towels and some soap and use the YMCA to shower before the next recruiting trip?

"That's one of the things that I thought was best about him," Boone said. "We would rather take a kid to a nice restaurant and spend the money on the recruits that would come in on official visits than … stay in Hilton Garden Inns and eat filet mignon when we were recruiting."

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Beard turned one 19-win season at McMurry into two years of success at Angelo State, including a 28-6 record in his second year. All he needed at that point was a chance to get back to Division I.

That's why he drove nine hours through the night to Little Rock when he was a finalist to be head coach of the Sun Belt team.

"Every stop that he made, he won," said Chasse Conque, the Little Rock athletic director who gave Beard that chance. "He did it quick, and then you ask, did he do it the right way? So you do your research and learn that he built cultures at those places even if it was just for a year or two years, and those programs were left in better shape than when he found them."

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Since departing Texas Tech the first time in 2011, Beard has never experienced a losing season.

That's eight consecutive winning seasons with five teams across two divisions of college basketball and one professional league.

At Little Rock, he took over a program that had won 13 games the year before and went 30-5 in 2015-16. He led the Trojans to their first NCAA Tournament win in 30 years over Purdue.

Texas Tech hadn't won a tournament game since Bob Knight (with Beard as an assistant) took the program to the Sweet 16 in 2005. The Red Raiders have never reached their current height before.

"He's extremely intelligent," Boone said. "I tell people all the time. He tries to act like he can't type on a computer. He acts like he doesn't know how to hook the computer up to the television with an HDMI cord. But I tell you, he's extremely intelligent. I think he's two, three steps ahead of a lot of situations because of his intelligence, because of his ability to read people. I think he's just extremely smart. And I think he's extremely tough."

The Red Raiders reflect Beard's personality. They enter this weekend 30-6, with the No. 1 defense in the country by most metrics. They're top 10 in the country in 2-point defense, 3-point defense, and blocked-shot percentage.

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They're led by players who, like Beard, clawed their way up the ladder. There's Matt Mooney, who arrived as a graduate transfer from South Dakota and learned how to become an elite college defender.

There's Tariq Owens, who spent time at Tennessee and St. John's but didn't reach an NCAA Tournament until coming to Texas Tech as a graduate transfer.

And Norense Odiase, who battled injuries over a five-year career but posted his first double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds) in four years in the second round of this tournament against Buffalo. Jarrett Culver, the Big 12 Player of the Year, is the one true NBA prospect on the roster.

Beard "gets them all to have a common goal," Ogden said.

"You can tell right now they're playing their best basketball, and they really fit the puzzle of different pieces together well."

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Beard reflected upon his journey a few times this week - the ups and downs, the trips to the Final Four as an observer, longing for the chance he'll get Saturday.

"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," he told reporters in Minneapolis. "I've been in a lot of rooms where it's two guys in each bed without the comforters, because you got to get more people on the floor with the comforters, and then one may be in the bathroom bathtub with the pillow. We put eight deep before in a Marriott Courtyard, I promise you."

The Concan trips stopped after five or six years, but the coaches remain close. Beard still sends Ogden "friendship gifts," ranging from the sentimental (a photo of the two together after last year's Sweet 16 win over Purdue) to the silly (an ice-cube scoop, with the date written on it, that Ogden once used to eat his food when there were no forks available).

Beard isn't the only member of the coaching group who's enjoyed recent success. Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding and assistant Brette Tanner took ACU to its first NCAA Tournament this year. Boone brought Angelo State back to the NCAA Division II Tournament. Ogden came one game away from a Sun Belt championship in his first year at UT Arlington.

The group plans to be in Minneapolis, attending this Final Four with a rooting interest.

And they plan to restart the Concan tradition this May.

Said Carroll: "You think they'll let us take the trophy and put it in a tube and take it down the river?"

Mark Cooper is theScore's NCAA writer. Twitter: @mark_cooperjr

Chris Beard's 'Book Club': Texas Tech's rise no shock to coach's inner circle
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