KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KXAN) — He’s still the interim head coach for the Texas Longhorns, and during the postgame press conference following his team’s 88-81 loss to Miami in the Elite 8, Rodney Terry was emotional when talking about this year’s team.

Terry stepped into the head coaching role following Chris Beard’s suspension and eventual firing, and his presence helped keep the team together. His coaching took them to a place the program hasn’t been in 15 years.

Since taking over Dec. 12, Terry led the Longhorns to a 22-8 record and their first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2008. A win over Xavier put the Longhorns in their first Elite Eight since the same season, and they nearly made it to their first Final Four in 20 years. The Sporting News named Terry its national coach of the year this season even though he wasn’t selected as the Big 12’s coach of the year.

Near the end of the postgame news conference following the loss, Terry was in tears talking about the team and how much he loved them.

“I love these guys,” Terry said. “I’ll love them for the rest of their lives. I’ll be at their weddings, talking to them when they have their firstborn … I enjoyed every single day of this journey with this group. I’m going to really miss working with this group, so it was never about me. It was always about them. I love them.”

Terry said he was so wrapped up in focusing on this season with the team, he hasn’t had time to think about the prospect of becoming the full-time head coach. It’s obvious how much he loves the Texas program, coming back to it after being an assistant for Rick Barnes from 2002-11, and it’s clear how much his players love and respect him. It’s one thing to get a head coaching job the traditional way through a hiring process and having a preseason to work with the team in that capacity, but to fall into the job the way he did and how the team became galvanized and even tighter behind him says it all.

“The way this group held adversity, they were probably the most challenged of any team in the country this season,” Terry said. “We stayed in the top 10 all year long, and it’s a testament to these guys and their chemistry all year long. They were truly a team. It wasn’t about one guy. They embodied everything about a team, both on and off the court.”

It seemed like every postgame news conference session had comments from the players about how much they love Terry and how much they respect him as a head coach. He was the team’s associate head coach since beginning his second stint with the program last season, so he already had a connection with the team. As the season went on and the Longhorns kept playing well, the connection grew much stronger in more ways than one.

“What this group really taught me was that in the game of life, you get knocked down, and these guys stayed the course the entire time,” Terry said. “This is a player-driven team, and those are the best to coach. We just along for the ride by putting them in the right positions. They embodied leadership and ownership to be as good as we could this season.”

Senior forward Timmy Allen said the team, “knew we had to break through barriers to set a new standard.”

“One thing, we I got here, I remember CDC [UT athletic director Chris Del Conte] said to me, ‘Leave the place better than you found it,’ and that’s something that has stuck with me,” he said. “The foundation we’ve laid and the culture that we’ve established, you’ve got to have what it takes to play at Texas and we take a lot of pride for what we did.”