AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas made quite a big splash by snatching up the charismatic Chris Beard, one of college basketball’s rising stars in the coaching ranks, to lead the program.
University officials hope that his demeanor will bring more interest than ever to UT basketball, both on campus and throughout Austin.
He is hoping for the same.
“We’ve got to make the Frank Erwin Center the toughest place to play in college basketball,” Beard said. “I’m going to work tirelessly in my role to make that happen, but I’m going to need your help.”
There’s no question Texas is a football school, the highest average attendance in the last 20 years for Texas was in 2010-11 when they averaged 13,669 fans, which is about 2,000 under capacity.
A new coach doesn’t necessarily do the trick, either. Shaka Smart’s arrival only provided an attendance average increase from 11,245 the previous year, to 12,828 after his first season.
Austin American-Statesman columnist Cedric Golden believes that Beard will provide a spark that will get people to care.
“I’ve been to games where I was like, ‘Where are they? Traffic wasn’t that bad today,’ so they can’t really be sitting on their hands anymore,” Golden said. “This is not a sit on your hands type of coach.”
Beard has never shied away from calling out fans, and in particular, students, directly.
“If they don’t show up, if they’re not loud, if they don’t show up early and stay late, they’re going to hear from Chris Beard, because that’s just who he is, he’s a Longhorn,” Golden said.
Beard was a student at UT in the early 90s, and him being a Longhorn will make him more sensitive to fan support, particularly with students, who he addressed at his introductory news conference on Friday.
“We’re going to need student attendance to increase and improve, and I look forward to the challenge and the opportunity of that,” Beard added. “I am very confident that we will be able to get that done.”
Nathan Han, a student and men’s basketball writer for The Daily Texan, believes it will be an uphill battle to generate more student interest in the sport.
“I’ve been to a lot of basketball games over the last couple of years and it’s honestly depressing when you’re watching the crowd,” Han said. “It’s not like a football game, or even a baseball game, that you go to with your friends on like a Friday or Saturday night.”
It may be tough, but Han believes it can be done.
“Working with the spirit groups is probably a big deal because they’ll bring a ton of energy,” Han added. “Once you build that relationship, then they’ll start sending people to that random Tuesday night, Tuesday afternoon games against a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, that’ll really help.”
It’s not Beard’s first time in this situation. He took over a Texas Tech program that didn’t generate much excitement in Lubbock and created a loyal following.
Next season will be the final year the Longhorns play in the Frank Erwin Center and with the brand new Moody Center set to open for the 2022-23 season, and it’ll be interesting to see Beard’s ability to generate basketball fever in Austin before that time.