With Chris Beard fired, Texas is now without a fulltime men’s basketball head coach. Assistant coach Rodney Terry has been promoted to interim head coach throughout the rest of the season, but does he have a shot at the fulltime job? Let’s see. Texas is one of the best jobs in the country and the sudden and unexpected opening puts them in the driver’s seat of the coaching carousel. Below we have some options for the future of Texas men’s basketball.
The Safe and Easy, Inside Answer: Rodney Terry, Texas interim head coach
Let’s get the current man out of the way. Rodney Terry will undoubtedly get first crack at the job as he leads the program for the remainder of the season. And he should. He was one of Beard’s earliest hires, is a native Texan and former longtime assistant under Rick Barnes with proven head coaching experience. But his record as a head coach is…okay at best.
He helped put together three 20-plus wins seasons at Fresno State before a very mediocre stint at UTEP where he went 37-48 and never competed for Conference-USA. His teams also aren’t known for defense and that's bit them more than once already this season. Texas currently sits 41st in defensive efficiency per Kenpom. Last year, they were 14th nationally. Plus, the Horns just gave up 116 at home to Kansas State and nearly lost to Oklahoma. However, Texas is still 12-2 this year and its offense is a lot better this season ranking seventh in adjusted efficiency. If Terry can continue that trajectory, come out of a brutal Big 12 schedule with a respectable record and make a Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight run in March, it’ll be hard to not promote him to the full-time job. Anything less than a competitive run in the NCAA Tournament makes it hard to justify keeping him on board.
The Safe and Easy, Outside Answer: Grant McCasland, North Texas head coach
Grant McCasland’s name will be connected to bigger jobs until he eventaully takes one. He was a candidate for the Oklahoma job that eventually went to Porter Moser and for good reason. North Texas has been one of the best mid-majors in the nation since he made Denton home. He has a .655 win percentage as a head coach and even an NCAA Tournament win to his name. His Mean Green play an aggressive style of perimeter-oriented high-pressure defense that’s easily translatable. He’s also a Scott Drew disciple and as Jerome Tang and Paul Mills are proving, that’s a successful family to be a part of.
Natural concerns would come from his unknown ability to recruit at a high level, but is that something Texas will do naturally thanks to the prestige of the job? The other is that he very much encourages a slow, at times lethargic, style of play. North Texas often finishes near the bottom of the country in tempo, and he doesn’t like players pushing the ball up court unless it’s an obvious man-advantage situation. Aesthetics aren’t everything but they could lend themselves to some hesitation if the point is to win and entertain a reinvigorated Texas fanbase.
The Not-So-Easy Answer(s): Eric Musselman, Arkansas head coach or Nate Oats, Alabama head coach
Okay, now we’re talking. Look, Texas has money to spend. The job is arguably a Top 5-8 job in the country and because they fired Chris Beard for clause, they don’t owe him another cent of his remaining six-year deal that paid him roughly $5 million per season. That contract alone shows that Texas was willing to make a splash hire to get the right guy. Both Musselman ($4m per) and Oats ($3.2m) earn below that mark. Musselman’s impressive stint at Nevada earned him the Razorbacks gig and he helped nab the nation’s second-best recruiting class including Anthony Black, the top recruit from Texas. Arkansas has deep pockets, and may need to flash them this off-season. Oats, while not as successful as Musselman at Arkansas, has Alabama in a great position too. Oats’ team plays with one of the consistently fastest tempos in the nation often playing a 5-out aggressive drive-and-space approach. It’s about as player-friendly as one could imagine which would lends itself well on the recruiting trail.
But with both of these options, you're looking at two programs who could potentially throw as much cash as Texas is willing to spend to keep their guy put.
The Not-So-Safe Answer: Jai Lucas, Duke Assistant
It’s likely a few seasons too soon, but Jai Lucas is one of the fastest rising assistants in college basketball. The former Longhorn was a priority acquisition for Jon Scheyer’s staff at Duke after he played a massive role in Kentucky’s resurgent recruiting classes the last few years and is credited in bringing five stars like Shaedon Sharpe, Cason Wallace, Tyty Washington and Daimion Collins to Lexington. But…he’s just 34 and only recently played a big role on the bench so he may need a few more seasons before he’s ready to be given the keys to a facility, much less a place like Texas that he likely holds in high regard and where the pressure is instant from day one.
The If-You-Can’t-Beat-Em-Take-Em Answer: Jerome Tang, Kansas State head coach
I’ve already mentioned one Scott Drew assistant, why not his longest tenured assistant? Texas poached Chris Beard from rival Texas Tech when it saw the Red Raiders speeding past them as a national power. I’m not saying that Tang will do the same at Kansas State, but a win over Texas inside the Moody Center in your first year is nothing to sneeze at.
Tang’s a proven recruiter and player developer and his quick turnaround of a middling Kansas State program is showing that he was ready for a top job all along. But Tang is also someone who turned down other job offers as a Baylor assistant in favor of waiting for right one for him. Could he do the same when a bigger opportunity arises this quickly into his first head coaching job?