Beard tries to make Texas basketball “personal” for students and fans

Nicholas Pannes, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the October 19 flipbook. 

Chris Beard has vowed to change what basketball means to the University of Texas. To him, that culture shift doesn’t start with the players, the coaching or the athletics department — it starts with the students.

Beard’s formula for success is a break in convention for his occupation. Instead of touting his tenure, his new all-star roster and his school’s resources, Beard is looking to the fans to help him win games.

“There’s a relationship in college basketball between attendance and winning. It’s undeniable,” Beard said Sept. 8. He’s echoed that same sentiment almost every time he’s met with the press since.

To foster his new strategy, Beard has gone above and beyond the duties of a coach to ensure fans stay engaged with the basketball team. Much of his focus has been on the students specifically.

Beard has attended fraternity and spirit group events and even visited the local scene on 6th Street to get better acquainted with student life at Texas. He’s expressed intent to track down students engaged in every aspect of the University.

“We look forward to going to every house, every sorority, every club — anything that’s going on in this campus,” Beard said.  “Whether it’s music-based, club-based or major-based, we want to be a part of it.”

His efforts don’t stop there. If the student section sells out for Texas’ first official game of the season on Nov. 9 against Houston Baptist, he vowed to host a party in front of the UT Tower, open to all students. 

Beard says he’s secured approval for the idea from the school’s athletic director Chris Del Conte and president Jay Hartzell. The head coach even threw out the possibility of the fan-favorite mascot Bevo showing up with his Silver Spur entourage.

Beard’s mission to bolster student attendance must be a relief for an athletic department that has seen a dramatic decline in ticket purchases over the last few seasons. 

Since the 2015-2016 season, average attendance for men’s basketball at the Frank Erwin Center dropped from 12,828 fans per game to 9,779 in 2020-2021 — just shy of a 24% decrease in five seasons. The stadium has a maximum capacity of 16,540 for basketball games.

Following the completion of the Moody Center, the 2021-2022 season is officially the last season the Longhorns will play basketball at the Frank Erwin Center, marking the end of a 44-year era.

While his focus on student attendance is central, Beard’s outreach is all-inclusive. To access the broader Texas fanbase, he meets regularly with local and major media outlets  and is always accompanied by a player or two.

And for those who want to meet the man behind the coach, Beard hosts a “fireside chat” series, a tradition he first started as Texas Tech’s head coach.

Beard has touted these chats as an initiative to earn trust and build a relationship with his fan base through consistent, organic outreach. His first episode at Texas included Kiara Kabbara, the student body president and Logan Kuenstler, a senior marketing major who Beard said was the first student he met at Texas.

“The fireside chat is the way that I proudly communicate with the most important group of fans we have … the student body,” Beard said in that first episode Sept. 2.

All of this isn’t to say he has completely abandoned the conventions of a new coaching hire. In his meetings with the media, Beard has said unequivocally that he believes his team has the talent and dedication to make a deep playoff run in his first year.

Beard himself has the coaching chops to back up what he says. At Texas Tech, he overshadowed decades of legendary coaching to bring his team to its first ever national championship appearance. Before him, Texas Tech had never made it to the Elite Eight.

At Texas, Beard has made it clear his goals remain the same. But before he starts winning games, he’s trying to win over the student body.