Q & A with Chris Beard, head coach of undefeated, no-quit Little Rock
Little Rock has begun the 2015–16 season with an 8–0 record, and though Trojans head coach Chris Beard quickly notes that the season is still very, very, very young, it’s hard not to come away impressed by wins on the road at San Diego State, Tulsa, and most recently, DePaul. (The last in the line a 22-point drubbing of the Blue Demons.)
Success comes down to trust, and a tireless resolve to approach each game with a mentality to win. Simple; not easy. Beard learned that from his previous coaching stops, which included a lengthy stint at Texas Tech, where he was an assistant with Bob, and then Pat, Knight.
He worked hard, and he cultivated a philosophy. This season, it has been expressed most notably in Little Rock’s resolve and defensive intensity. The Trojans rank first nationally in scoring defense (53.3 points), and 10th in field goal percentage defense (.360).
It’s a reason to track this team, as the season wears on. The Trojans aren’t waiting on anybody, something that the “favorites” going into each game with them quickly discover.
Beard took time to speak with Alley Whoops last week. Here’s the transcript.
Alley Whoops: The number of newcomers (10) on this team is the first thing many people notice. But the way they’ve gelled, seen in the number of comebacks this season, is even more telling. To what do you attribute this resolve?
Chris Beard: Even though we’re young, and my staff and I are in our first year coaching here, we have experienced players. There’s four seniors, five or six juniors, and several DI transfers. So even though we’re a new team playing together, we have guys who’ve been through it. That’s been promising.
And we talk about handling adversity. Because it’s coming, and it’s not a matter of if, it’s when. We embrace the challenge when we go down. Ever since Day 1: adversity. We don’t have McDonald’s All Americans, or guys besides Daniel Green who had high-DI offers out of high school.
What we’ve got are self-made guys, and we take pride in that. We don’t run from it, we embrace it. Two things we talk about: mental toughness—I learned that from Coach Knight—and, tough times pass, but tough people last. Our guys embrace that, in a weird way.
Among those seniors, Josh Hagins is looking like one of the most dynamic guards in the country. How does he make this team go?
He’s a talented player, and he’s proven at this level. I’m really proud of him. Not just the level he’s playing at, but from Day 1 he’s been on board. I’m so happy of these guys that stayed. We didn’t beg guys to stay. We told them what we’re about, and they made their own decisions, and Josh is a guy that’s been about the team from Day 1.
The link to those very good Texas Tech teams, coaching with the Knights, stands out on your coaching resume. Was that one of the most formative periods for you as a coach? How so?
Yeah. Every day was a basketball clinic. I was learning from the best ever, in my opinion. There’s some things…I’d been a head coach for two years when I got the Texas Tech assistant job, and a lot of things that I believed in were validated. Character of players: we started there. We’re a business of talent, and you need it, but as a young head coach, I quickly learned that I’d rather have a guy who’s maybe not as good, but has more character than that talented guy.
If you compete for championships, you need a team that stays together, handles adversity, and works to improve. That was validated at Tech. We’d pass on talented guys that didn’t fit the team mold. Also, with coach Knight, you’ve got that fabled motion offense, but we were one of the best defensive teams in the country, too.
At Little Rock, we’re guarding really well, and taking care of the ball. That was the backbone of what I learned at Tech.
I vividly remember watching that Texas Tech win over then-No. 6 Oklahoma State in January, 2002. That was your first season on Bob Knight’s staff: how much fun was it to come into a program like that? That arena was absolutely rocking during that win.
I had an amazing time at Tech. Coach Knight is always associated with Indiana, but in my personal opinion, he doesn’t get enough recognition for what we did in Lubbock. Four NCAA tournaments, two NITs, including that run in 2003.
And the Big 12, at that time, was the best conference in basketball. Bill Self, Eddie Sutton, Rick Barnes, Bob Huggins for a couple years at K-State. You go down the line, the league was very good, and we were an NCAA tournament team year in and year out. It was a great time not only for my career but for basketball. I got to see so many different situations, and learn from it.
What were some of the key takeaways from your first coaching gigs, Tech included? Commitment to the team at hand?
No question. We dedicate ourselves to this game, and through the grind we remind ourselves this is something we need to enjoy. Positive energy, enthusiasm, stems from understanding we’re lucky. The other day, I told ’em, basketball is amazing. This season, we’ve been to San Diego, Las Vegas, Tulsa, and Idaho.
You’ve gotta embace this time you have, recognize what basketball does, and give it everything. We talk a lot about being positive every day, playing together. The promising thing for this team, the guys have bought in, We’re playing for each other.
No guy is averaging as many points as he did last year. Including coaches, guys made sacrificies to be here. That’s our basketball identity right now: guys playing together from different places.
You enjoyed incredible success at Angelo State. What did you take from your experience there, and apply to Little Rock?
I think the No. 1 thing, is that basketball is basketball. The league I coached in at DII (the Lone Star Conference), there were really good players. I coached four players I believed could play pro basketball, and two are under contract now. The coaching was good, the competition, too.
Division II basketball doesn’t get a lot of notice, but the basketball is very good. There’s a lot of good coaches and good players, who for whatever reason haven’t gotten the opportunity to play DI. I take that seriously. We’re representing people.
I’m so proud of my own junior college track. Seven guys on our staff at Little Rock were involved with junior college, including guys playing on our roster. We try to represent that. I’ve never been a guy with a four- or five-year plan; I have a one-day plan. Stay organized. Take care of your players. You do that, it turns into a month, a year, and success will follow. We have a plan, recruiting, but the goal from Day 1 here at Little Rock was to win immediately.
One of the best things for seniors, they’ve paid their dues. And senior year is a really important time. Every team I’ve coached, the seniors are my team captains. When I got this job, I had Hagins, Woods, and I recruited Rutley and Green. I told those four guys that we’re building, but my promise to them was that we will win immediately. Decisions will be made to be competitive right off the bat. Those guys deserve that.
I remember being a young kid, I was playing junior high football, and we were about to have three straight road games. And we’re in the locker room, and the coach said we should try to win one of the next three; if we could win two, that’s great. And as a kid at 12, I don’t buy that. That’s BS. Why go into a game and not have the goal of winning it?
My idea is to win every game on the schedule. And the last time it was done was coach Knight’s ’76 team at Indiana, but as a competitor, a coach, that should be the goal: there is a way to win every game. And our philosophy is to coach that way.