TULSA, Okla. — Sean Sutton was an assistant coach at Oklahoma State the last time the Cowboys — someone other than Kansas, that is — won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title. That was way back in 2004.
Now, Sutton is an aide under Chris Beard at Texas Tech, the Big 12’s newest such champion alongside Kansas State. Sutton sees a direct parallel between the success of Oklahoma State, Kansas and Tech. He knows why Beard’s reclamation project in Lubbock has been so sudden and why, just three years in, it may have staying power.
“He’s made the atmosphere at Texas Tech right now one of the two or three best places in the Big 12 night in and night out,” Sutton said. “I think that was one of his biggest objectives coming in. There was a reason Kansas has won 14 straight championships: It’s one of the toughest places to play every night. It’s hard to beat them. You look back at Oklahoma State, one of the things that made Oklahoma State such a great job was it was sold out every night. One of the best atmospheres in the Big 12, if not the best, during our time there.”
Beard has the Red Raiders in the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for just the fourth time in school history. The Red Raiders tied Kansas State for the Big 12’s regular-season title, won the conference tiebreaker for the tournament’s top seed, and as the 3-seed in the West Region meets Northern Kentucky at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Bank of Oklahoma Center.
“We don’t take these for granted,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told Sporting News. “I mean, it’s so hard to get to this point.”
Beard is Tech’s first coach since Bobby Knight (2002-05) to post three consecutive winning seasons. Since Knight’s final three years from 2005-08 to Hocutt’s quick pick of Beard after just one season at Arkansas-Little Rock, the Red Raiders posted just four winning records, and made the NCAA Tournament just twice (2007 under Knight and 2016 under Tubby Smith).
“I think among many goals we had when we got the Tech job,” Beard said Thursday, “we were trying to build a program, not just have a good team. There’s a big difference. Last year we had a great run in this tournament, but we didn’t want that to define who we are as a program. That’s why we’re so proud to be back up here on this stage this year.”
Knight’s last three teams were 52-45 before he retired. In three seasons under Pat Knight, Tech was a pedestrian 46-54. Billy Gillispie’s 2011-12 season spiraled into an 8-23 disaster. And interim coach Chris Walker’s only season concluded at 11-20. Smith’s three seasons produced a 46-50 record.
That’s 11 seasons of mediocrity that dragged the program down and chased many Tech fans away. But those days are long past. At least, it appears that way not that Tech has sustained some consistent success under Beard.
To read the rest of John E. Hoover’s NCAA Tournament coverage from Tulsa, click here: