There will be no more bumming prime rib sliders off Jim Rome or sleeping eight to a room in the Courtyard Marriott.
Chris Beard’s biggest worry after this week might be how many zeroes are at the end of his contract.
The breakthrough star of the NCAA tournament has been the Texas Tech coach who continues his own Cinderella rise from cutting boxes behind grocery stores to putting his team on the verge of its own Wheaties box.
What’s made Beard all the more alluring is that he’s enjoyed every low-budget motel and extra-value meal along the way to the national championship game, where his third-seeded Red Raiders (31-6) will face top-seeded Virginia (34-3) on Monday night at US Bank Stadium.
“I tell the guys to never forget where they come from and be you,” Beard, who’s in his third season at Texas Tech, said earlier this week. “For that young coach out there like me that sat in the open practices for 22 years and dreamed about being there, don’t give up. Keep at it.”
Perseverance has handsomely rewarded the 46-year-old who didn’t get paid until his fourth coaching job, making ends meet before that by conducting private lessons and slicing the seams of those grocery store boxes.
Beard parlayed Texas Tech’s run to a regional final last season into a new six-year, $19-million contract that now seems woefully inadequate. Red Raiders athletic director Kirby Hocutt acknowledged to reporter this week that he may need to tear up that deal and lavish a massive raise upon a coach whose $2.8-million salary puts him tied for 27th among college basketball coaches, according to USA Today’s database.
It may require a blank checkbook to keep a defensive wizard who just prevailed in head-to-head duels with John Beilein, Mark Few and Tom Izzo, three of the top coaches in the college game. UCLA fans continue to clamor on message boards for their school to make a run at Beard, however unlikely, for their coaching vacancy.
Beard’s stories are the only things that have outnumbered wins on the way to Texas Tech’s first appearance in a national title game.
There was the encounter with Rome in a hotel elevator at the Final Four in Phoenix, when Beard was a junior college coach and told the famed sports television host he was trying to scrounge up some food. Rome instructed him and his friends to raid the concierge lounge on his floor.
“I will never forget it,” Beard said. “They had prime rib sliders and water and bars. We killed it, man.”
“”There’s only three cars in the parking lot,” said Beard, who once enjoyed late-night movies as a release from his coaching stress. “That’s Bill’s [car], who runs the place, and I think that car’s been there for two weeks.”
Coaches were crammed into that Courtyard Marriott at another Final Four. The coaches would sleep two to a bed without the comforters, which would go to those consigned to the floor. The unluckiest of them all would end up in the bathtub with some pillows. But even Beard had his limits.
“I guess I’ll share a bar of soap if you wash it really good,” he said, “but I’m not sharing a towel with any other man. [So] we used to come to the Final Fours and bring our own towels.”
Beard knows all about sacrifice, having given up beer, desserts and candy this season. Some might say he hasn’t entirely kept his promise.
“Did you know a Pop-Tart is not a dessert?” Beard asked reporters. “It’s a breakfast. I’ve eaten a lot of Pop-Tarts, man, since October.”
Beard has asked his players to make sacrifices, too. Some have given up Netflix after 9 p.m. Some have stopped posting on social media. Some have given up fried food.
None seem to mind given the results Beard has extracted for a team making its first appearance in the Final Four, not to mention the final game.
Said center Norense Odiase: “He’s sickly competitive. He drives us, he drives our coaches. He pushed the standards higher, higher, higher.”
Said guard Jarrett Culver: “He brings the best out of you, no matter if you’re a walk-on, the best player, coaching staff, [graduate assistant].”
About the only thing Beard doesn’t seem to enjoy these days is the narrative that his team plays only defense. Yes, the Red Raiders lead the nation by holding opponents to 36.8% shooting, but they’ve been playing some pretty doggone good offense, too.
Texas Tech made nine of its first 11 shots in the second half against Michigan State on Saturday to start pulling away.
“I’ve never been a big believer of this team has this identity or this identity,” Beard said. “It all goes hand in hand.”
Sort of like hard work eventually paying off. Beard acknowledged that his team’s run is as much for the future Chris Beards as the one playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I hope those guys are having a blast watching our team.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch