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December 1, 2022

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Analysis: Chris Beard makes powerful first impression as UNLV coach

Rebels’ fans have plenty reasons for excitement based off first news conference

Chris Beard Welcome

L.E. Baskow

UNLV Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy, new UNLV coach Chris Beard and UNLV President Len Jessup are shown onstage Friday, April 8, 2016, at Mendenhall Center.

New UNLV Basketball Coach Chris Beard

New UNLV basketball coach Chris Beard discusses his coaching philosophy during a welcome gathering by supporters Friday, April 8, 2016, at Mendenhall Center. Launch slideshow »

Chris Beard infamously broke his right hand last month while attempting to motivate his players at Arkansas-Little Rock during halftime of the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship, leading him to repeatedly joke he lost a fight with a whiteboard.

The 43-year-old new UNLV basketball coach must have learned from the defeat and strengthened his punching ability, because he knocked out everyone gathered Friday afternoon at the Mendenhall Center for his introductory news conference.

“I’m very comfortable now for a lot of reasons, maybe the biggest one being that we’re on a basketball court right now, where I’ve dedicated my whole life,” Beard said from a stage inside the practice facility, “and where I look forward to getting it done here at a high level on this court and the Thomas & Mack.”

In fairness, a coach’s first news conference rarely turns out negatively. Attending boosters adorned in school colors are almost guaranteed to walk away feeling sanguine about the future, but it takes a little more to win over the more skeptical set of fans and the more jaded journalists.

Beard appealed to everyone.

“I’m a regular guy who believes in one thing above maybe anything: There’s a relationship between hard work and results,” Beard said. “I’ve worked my whole life, and I think in a lot of ways, the results speak for themselves. I’ve been told I’m a grinder, and I take that as a compliment.”

Beard reached into his jacket pocket and unfolded a piece of paper when he first took the podium. The only mystery was why.

It didn’t seem like he needed any notes. He hardly ever looked down during an impassioned 12-minute speech covering most of the pertinent issues of his signing a 5-year, $5.75 million contract.

Beard never stuttered, never lost his place and never conveyed a message without what came off as 100 percent conviction.

“The first time I sat down with Chris and he started talking about what he wanted to do and how he does it, I knew that he was the right man to come in and change Runnin’ Rebel history,” UNLV Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said.

A checklist of topics a coach must address publicly on the first day more or less exists, and Beard stuck to it. But the grace and detail with which he marked every box stood out.

He vowed to embrace tradition by reaching out to every former player. He praised the community by sharing an anecdote about meeting a waitress at a Mexican restaurant last night. He promised the media unfettered access to his program.

When someone mentioned the difficulty ahead next year with only three scholarship players currently on the roster — senior Ben Carter, senior Tyrell Green and sophomore Jalen Poyser — he virtually guaranteed winning immediately.

“I respect the question, but this is UNLV,” Beard said. “This is Las Vegas. Those seniors who are going to be on the team deserve an opportunity to compete in year one. Every decision we make and everything we do here in the next couple months is going to be based on those guys.”

The 2016-17 season will bring a monumental challenge, but it’s refreshing to have the chance of a surprise. UNLV entered each of the last four basketball seasons with high expectations that were never met.

Hopes will be significantly lowered next year, and Beard has a knack for delivering under those circumstances. Two years ago, he set a school record for victories at Texas Division II college Angelo State, which was coming off three straight losing seasons.

That led him to Little Rock, where he manufactured college basketball’s largest turnaround — from 13 wins two years ago to 30 victories this season — and the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.

“I think one ingredient for the Little Rock team was we had a couple special seniors, Josh Hagins and Robert Woods, decide to stay and trust the new coaching staff their senior year,” Beard said. “That’s what we’re hopeful will happen here. To me, the story is not the guys that choose to leave, although I respect that and wish them the best. To me, the story are any players that decide to stay and play for this city and school.”

After witnessing the command he held over the room Wednesday, if anyone can convince players teetering on the idea of sticking with UNLV, it’s Beard. Recruiting won’t be a problem, even if it’s with one hand.

Beard enters the most vital stretch of assembling his roster handicapped, with the scheduled date to get the cast on his hand removed still three weeks away.

“I’ve been giving left-handed handshakes all day so I look forward to resurfacing with everybody and giving them a right-handed handshake when I get this thing off,” Beard smiled.

If Beard continues to do the best with what he’s got and lives up to Friday’s striking messages, then UNLV is in a great position. Consider day one a success.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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