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A Visit with Head Coach Chris Beard on Ole Miss Basketball, His Mentors, Life Lessons and More

A Visit with Head Coach Chris Beard on Ole Miss Basketball, His Mentors, Life Lessons and More

OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss men’s basketball head coach Chris Beard grew up and began his career in Texas. The old saying goes, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” While that might be true in some instances, there is something to be said for the charm of a small college town. Small-town charm and an excited fan base can attract an elite coach who sees the potential for some big things to happen. That’s what Chris Beard has found in Oxford, MS, a welcoming college and local community that genuinely supports him and wants to do whatever it can to help him and his team succeed.

We visited with Coach Beard in The SJB Pavilion and talked with him about his time at Ole Miss and in Oxford, getting his opinion on various topics concerning Ole Miss men’s basketball, college sports, and life, in general.

Coach Beard has lived in and visited large cities, but college towns are different for him. “You know, I’ve always really enjoyed living in college towns,” Beard told us.

I’ve been blessed. I’ve coached in some great places, and Oxford is at the top of the list. I enjoy the big city. I grew up in the Dallas area. My oldest daughter lives in New York. I like visiting those places, no doubt. But when it comes to coaching a college basketball program, I think there’s great beauty and value in being in a college town. And Oxford’s just special for so many reasons.”

Coach Beard on living in Oxford

It’s not just the town that Beard finds appealing but also everything that Oxford and the university represent. He sees the current moment as a unique opportunity for Ole Miss men’s basketball to join the wave of success other sports on campus have experienced.

Coach Beard works with his team at practice this week. (Photo: Donna Sprabery)

 

Beard shared, “To me, it starts with the people. Obviously, the campus is beautiful. It’s great history and tradition here. But what’s really interesting about the timing of our coming to Ole Miss is just the success and momentum on campus right now. You know, what Lane’s doing with football is real. And the other sports have had great success. So, I tell the players all the time that timing is really important in life. And there’s no doubt that the timing is right now at Ole Miss for us to build this basketball program; it’s a great opportunity.”

Coach Beard with two of his three daughters.

Ole Miss men’s basketball head coach with two of his three daughters. (L to R: Margo Beard, Coach Chris Beard, Ella Beard)

Beard is not the only family member who has enjoyed the transition of moving to Oxford and his coaching at Ole Miss. His three daughters visit as much as possible despite living far away.

“My oldest, Avery, lives in New York,” Beard explained. “She went to Columbia. She’s been to Oxford several times. My middle daughter, Ella, is a senior in college. She comes a lot during basketball season for games and weekends. And then my youngest daughter, Margo, is going into her senior year in high school. And she probably comes to Oxford the most. She’s got about 30,000 people recruiting her to come to Ole Miss. So we’ll see how that works out,” he added.

Coach Beard told us that sports were part of his identity growing up. He sees value in playing more than one sport instead of specializing in only one, and he values the opportunities his parents gave him to participate in more than one sport.

I think there’s great value in playing everything. Some of our best players were also high school football and high school baseball players. For me, life was during football season. That’s all we did. Then, it switched to basketball and baseball in the summers. But I think more than anything, my parents were just great because they made so many sacrifices for me to play sports. For that, I’m always appreciative.

Coach Beard on kids playing multiple sports

Mentors

Coach Beard had great mentors along his path to a college coaching career, ones that made lasting impacts personally and professionally.

I was really blessed. I played for two high school coaches that were basically Hall of Fame-type coaches in the state of Texas. Both of them were great men and great mentors. Second to probably my own father, they had the most impact on my life growing up. Then, certainly, in coaching, everybody that I’ve ever worked for and worked with has made a huge impact. I’m associated with Bob Knight, which I’m proud of. I spent eight years with Coach (Knight). It was like getting a PhD in coaching every day. I learned so much from Coach (Knight), not only about the game of basketball, but also the idea of preparation and discipline and really how to run a program.

Coach Beard on his mentors

One day, great coaches will look back on their time spent with Coach Chris Beard as their mentor, and they will remember similar stories as Beard related about his mentors. We asked what advice he would give new coaches beginning their careers.

“I think enjoy the ride,” he began. “I think coaches are no different. You’re always looking ahead to the future. You have goals and stuff. But I think the best coaches that I’ve ever been around, just like players, are guys that can live in the moment, live where their feet are, just enjoy each day, maybe not be thinking about tomorrow or your next game or next job or next career step. But what can I do today to impact winning in the organization? I think with that comes patience. It’s okay to be driven. It’s okay to be motivated. But I think there’s a real art in being patient. All the successful people, whether it’s basketball players or just elite Americans, I think everybody shares kind of a fine line between being driven and aggressive but also being patient and understanding it’s a process.”

Success in Year One, On and Off the Court

Beard’s success in his first year at Ole Miss left fans eager for what season two of the Coach Beard era will hold. He reflected on the team’s most significant achievements.

I was really proud of last year’s team. The first year was really hard, but the players really had great effort. They bought in for the most part all season long. We had some tangible results that show success – winning 20 games and being in the top 25 for several weeks in the polls. I think we doubled SEC wins from the previous couple of years.”

Coach Beard on on-the-court success in year one

Beard doesn’t only measure success in the things that happen on the court but off the court as well. We had some real off-the-court victories, too.

“We graduated our first seniors, Matt Murrell and Jaemyn Brakefield. We had some graduate students come in and earn graduate degrees. And our attendance, we had one of the largest increases in attendance in college basketball. For me, it started with the student body really supporting the team and Club Red. There’s  great momentum heading into year two.”

Coach Beard on the off-the-court achievements in year one

Appreciating the Ole Miss Students

Coach Beard’s connection with the student body seemed almost instantaneous. The students parlayed the team’s energy into a boisterous student section, making their support for Coach Beard and his team heard throughout the SEC.

His relationship with the student body is one Beard doesn’t take for granted.

It’s a relationship that’s really important to us. I know everybody builds programs in different ways. There’s no right way to do it, or one way to do it, or everybody would do it. With us, though, we have some things we really believe in. We believe no group is more important to us than the student body. To me, college basketball is about great home-court advantages. And again, you know, on my first day in Oxford last spring, I went to a baseball game. There are over 12,000 people there watching the Ole Miss baseball team. I certainly enjoyed fall football with Lane’s special season last year. So, we knew the potential was here. We’ve just got to put a product on the court that’s worthy of the students investing their time. We work really hard at those relationships, whether it’s the fireside chats we do or whether it’s getting out on campus and helping the students in their areas. We’re just getting started. The relationship’s early, but I don’t think there’s any denying that we got off to a good start last year. It’s a high objective for us this year to create a real home-court advantage in The Pavilion.

Coach Beard on the Ole Miss student body

NIL and the Transfer Portal

Every coach, player, parent, and fan in the country has his/her own opinion regarding NIL and the transfer portal. At this juncture, one has to wonder whether one is more important than the other or if the two complement each other. We asked Beard for his take on them both.

“I think first,” Beard related, “looking at them separately, the name and likeness is something that I’ve always been for. Our game generates a lot of money and a lot of opportunities for a lot of people, and the players are the most important part of the game. So, I think it’s great that our players can benefit from their name and likeness. Just a few short years ago, I was coaching players who were in tough spots financially where their own families couldn’t come watch games. There’s a lot of good in the space we’re in now. There are also a lot of unknowns and a lot of challenges. It’s just so new out there. I think the current model needs to be defined and improved for everybody, but the bottom line is it’s great to see our players benefit. I think they’re deserving. Obviously, they’re the product,” Beard noted.

Regarding his view of the transfer portal, Beard told us he feels the portal is a sign of the times.

“You know, we kind of live in a society where everybody can kind of do what they want almost on a daily and yearly basis,” Beard said.

As coaches, we don’t control those rules. We can only adapt to them. My personal opinion on the portal really doesn’t matter because I’m not the one making the rules. I know at the end of the day, it’s still about recruiting and coaching. One of our objectives is to build a program here where each individual player has success. They see their growth. They believe in the program. We want to be one of those programs that doesn’t see as many guys going to the portal each year because of the experience we’re giving our players here. They’re happy. We want to keep them happy.

Coach Beard on the transfer portal

Looking Ahead to Season Two

Looking forward to season two of Ole Miss men’s basketball, Coach Beard noted the importance of keeping expectations high and ensuring everyone within the organization understands that competing for championships is the end goal.

Coach Beard says it’s a culture that doesn’t happen overnight but one to build. In terms of play, Beard says there are things to improve on both ends of the court. “Defensively, rebounding was an issue last year,” he noted. “It’s something that we talk about on a daily basis. Offensively, we have a very talented, experienced team. We have a lot of individuals that have already done great things in college basketball. So, the goal here is to get these guys to play together.”

In addition, Coach Beard recognizes that developing relationships and supporting players as they pursue their academic goals are vital to heighten success. “We have some specific goals off the court,” he commented.

“We want to continue developing that relationship with our season ticket holders and students, selling out games. We want to be active in this community. We also want to graduate this year’s seniors to keep a 100% graduation rate,” Beard continued.

Players and Social Media

When asked how he and his staff broach the topic of social media, Beard explained, “It’s definitely something we talk about on a daily basis. I think with our players, we’re trying to eliminate distractions. There’s a lot of good in social media. There’s a lot of good in cell phones. There’s a lot of good, but there’s a lot of risk, a lot of threat, a lot of distractions. So, we try to encourage our guys to manage their time.”

Social media can be a tool of positivity or one of upheaval. Coach Beard and his staff are responsible for coaching players on how to improve their athletic abilities and navigating a world where access to them can be at the fingertips of people wanting to lift or tear them down.

Beard explained the coaches’ goal. “We try to get our guys to understand there’s no secret text,” he explained. “There’s no hidden message. So, just to have a brand that represents you and your family and our program. With that in mind, we try to help our guys by instilling the whole HALT ideal. Don’t do anything when you’re hungry, angry, lazy, or tired. Kind of take a deep breath. These guys have a lot of pressure. You know, they have a good game. They have thousands of people telling them how good they are. The next game, if they have some adversity, they have those same thousand people taking shots at them.”

It’s essential for Beard and his staff to keep their players grounded in who they are and to embrace the culture and responsibility associated with being a student-athlete. It’s another step in preparing players for the next phase of their careers and lives. Coach Beard explained that part of the job of coaches is to teach the players to deal with adversity and to recognize that the players are still young men navigating a different world than years prior to social media.

“It’s the real world,” Beard says. “Everybody doesn’t have to play college basketball. It’s a privilege. And with that comes some things that you’ve got to take care of. And so we talk to our guys about that almost on a daily basis. You know, mental health is so important in today’s society, not just our basketball team, just everybody. And I think social media is impacting a lot of our players, some in a good way, but many, unfortunately, kind of in a challenging way. So it’s something we spend time talking about almost on a daily basis.”

Part of coaching is also teaching young men skills they will need in the future, ones that don’t necessarily deal with sports and their athletic abilities but instead instill habits and a culture of responsibility.

We tell our guys every day you have 24 hours. Eight to ten of those hours are spent sleeping, resting, and recovering for our guys. So our players have about 14 hours a day, and where they put their time is who they are. So, if I’m going to be a good student, there’s got to be some of those 14 hours working towards academics. Obviously, basketball players make a huge commitment at this level. I estimate our guys probably spend six or seven hours a day on basketball in one form or fashion. When you think about things like social media, it’s just having priorities. Is it okay for those guys to be on there and have a brand? Absolutely, but they have to understand the time involved in that.

Coach Beard

A Bright Future

Accolades, articles, and interviews don’t adequately express a coach’s heart. No, people see a coach’s heart through the coach’s impact on the people he comes in contact with and the culture he develops in his program, which bleeds over into the lives of those who support him.

Chris Beard is an excellent example of how a coach’s heart can lead to success on the court and in life. He has taken lessons learned and applied them in such a way as to create a successful, energetic, and respected coaching legacy.  Ole Miss fans have much to look forward to in the coming season. Big things are happening with Ole Miss men’s basketball, and with Coach Beard leading the Rebels the sky is the limit.

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.

About The Author

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.

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