Could Chris Beard Succeed at UNLV?

Chris BeardIt appears as though UNLV is close to naming its next head coach, as New Mexico State’s Marvin Menzies and Little Rock’s Chris Beard were reportedly in Las Vegas to interview over the weekend. As we’ve already covered Menzies’ coaching profile, this seems like an opportune time to take a deep dive into the other finalist’s resume and examine Beard’s record a little more closely.

Unlike the other serious candidates—Menzies and Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, who have each served at least nine years at their current schools—Beard does not have a ton of Division I experience as a head coach. In fact, he’s only got one season under his belt. But it was a spectacular campaign, as he led Little Rock to a 30-5 record (including a victory over San Diego State), regular-season and tournament championships in the Sun Belt conference, and an upset win over Purdue in the first round of the NCAAs. (Did I mention it was a spectacular campaign?)

That run was enough to catch the attention of UNLV, and it’s enough to make Beard a very intriguing candidate despite the scant head coaching experience. Now the question is, would he be able to work similar magic in Las Vegas?

Turnaround man
Beard doesn’t tend to stay put very long, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you choose to look at it. Besides a 10-year stint as an assistant at Texas Tech (much of it spent under the tutelage of Bobby Knight), Beard has spent the rest of his coaching career skipping from town to town, never staying at the same job for more than a year or two.

The complete list:
1999-00: Fort Scott Community College
2000-01: Seminole State
2001-11: Texas Tech (assistant)
2011-12: South Carolina Warriors (American Basketball Association)
2012-13: McMurry
2013-15: Angelo State
2015-16: Little Rock

For those counting at home, he’s had a total of five head coaching stints at various remote outposts that lasted just one year (including his year at Little Rock, should he move on to UNLV or another job this offseason). The bright side is that Beard has won at every single stop, often inheriting sub-.500 teams and turning them into winners overnight. In fact, he’s never had a losing season as a head coach. The downside is that he’s never had to face the type of program-building challenges that come with maintaining a team over the course of several years, so UNLV will have to make a projection when evaluating that aspect of his resume.

But the bottom line is that Beard has had success everywhere he’s gone, and when he’s been put in charge, it hasn’t taken him very long to turn losing teams into winners. That tends to get you promoted up the coaching ranks, and sometimes—as in Beard’s case—it happens quickly. So I’m not sure if you can hold that against him.

UNLV has to be particularly impressed with the total rebuild Beard just orchestrated at Little Rock. The Trojans went 13-18 last year, and Beard got them to 30 wins the very next season. And he did it while turning over virtually the entire roster, as only four players returned from the 2014-15 team. That ability to reload on the fly may come in handy if Beard is tasked with making UNLV competitive next year, as the Rebels are likely to suffer similar roster erosion this offseason.

Defensive grinder
How quickly does Beard make an impact? The year before he arrived at Little Rock, the Trojans finished 281st in the nation in‘s adjusted defense rating. Beard came in, completely reshaped the roster and coached them into the No. 33 KenPom defense this season.

He did it by employing a perimeter-based man-to-man scheme that chased opponents off the 3-point line and forced them to take shorter contested jumpers. Only 20 teams defended the 3-point line better than Little Rock in 2015-16, as the Trojans allowed just 0.916 points per possession on plays that ended with spot-up 3-point attempts, according to Synergy Sports data. Guards Josh Hagins (a 6-foot-1 senior), Marcus Johnson (a 5-foot-11 junior) and Kemy Osse (a 6-foot-1 junior) all turned in good to great defensive performances under Beard and combined to help the Trojans field one of the nation’s stingiest perimeter trios.

For the season, Little Rock finished 15th in opposing field goal rate (39.5 percent) and fourth in points allowed at 60.9 per game. In the Mountain West, where hard-nosed defense is at a premium, Beard could help put the Rebels ahead of the game.

Halfcourt offense
Like Cronin and Menzies, Beard presided over one of the nation’s slowest offenses in 2015-16. The Trojans were 340th in the country with just 66.3 possessions per game (for comparison, UNLV was No. 7 with 77.2 per game), and they rarely pushed the ball in transition. The good news is that Beard’s approach paid off, as he got Little Rock’s halfcourt offense to operate at a fairly efficient level.

The Trojans scored 0.935 points per possession in halfcourt possessions, which ranked 57th in the country. Solid ball movement led to a lot of open spot-up jump shots, and Little Rock cashed in, shooting 38.4 percent from 3-point range (28th in the nation).

After watching UNLV’s halfcourt offense sputter to the tune of 0.843 points per possession this season (good for a lowly 254th in the country), Beard’s system—slow pace and all—must be looking pretty enticing to the Rebels’ decision-makers.

Recruiting questions
Beard has almost no track record as a recruiter because he’s rarely been at a job long enough to bring in a recruiting class. But there is some evidence that he might capable of maintaining the high standard set by Dave Rice in that area.

Before this season, Beard scored a big win on the recruiting trail when he landed a commitment from Top 100 talent Deshawn Corprew, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from North Carolina. Corprew eventually de-committed over the winter, but the fact that Beard got the initial pledge from such a coveted player is a good sign for his ability to attract talent.

In addition to Corprew (who reopened his recruitment and still may end up at Little Rock), Beard also got a commitment from one of the state’s best players in the Class of 2016 when 6-foot-4 guard Andre Jones chose the Trojans. So while Beard may not have as many established recruiting connections on the west coast as a guy like Marvin Menzies, he does seem to have a penchant for developing strong relationships with top high school players.

He’s also demonstrated a good eye for juco and transfer talent. That’s what allowed him to replenish Little Rock’s roster in Year 1, and though it’s not ideal, UNLV may be looking at a similar type of patchwork roster in 2016-17. In a perfect world, Beard would bring in a few juco players to keep the Rebels afloat next year while also mining the high school ranks to lay the groundwork for long-term contention in the Mountain West.

Upside play
As we covered in the Mick Cronin profile, UNLV is in a tough spot when it comes to attracting coaches. The Vegas job is a step down for Power 5 coaches, and it’s not enough of a step up for small-conference coaches to take the bait. Beard is the type of up-and-comer that UNLV can realistically target. The 43-year-old is one more successful season at Little Rock away from being the hottest name on the coaching carousel next offseason, but UNLV can snag him by thinking ahead and striking a year early, before the deep-pocketed Power 5 schools come calling.

Beard may be ambitious, and considering his carpetbagging resume, there are obvious concerns that he’d use UNLV as a stepping stone and bolt for the next job that opened up. But if that happens, it will mean he’s been successful in getting the Rebels back on track, at which point the school can either choose to step up and pay him big money to keep him, or let him go and try to replace him with another young, Beard-like hire. From UNLV’s perspective, that would be a good problem to have.

  • ph90702

    We can’t keep replacing the coach and expect to have success.

    • DQ202

      This is the second coaching hire since 2004, take it easy. If this guy lives up to his fast start, he’s not going anywhere.

      • ph90702

        San Diego State has had once coach this millenium.

  • David Raanan

    Great profile Mike! Hoping for the best. Go Rebels!

  • Love Eddie Owens

    If and that is a big IF right now this guy wins and I think he will. It will be up to UNLV to keep him. They saw what happened when they didn’t pay Kruger. Let’s hope they learned from that. I think this guy will be good.

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