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Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel admits he was surprised John Beilein decided to leave the Wolverines and head to the NBA. The Detroit News

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The names of possible candidates have swirled since former coach John Beilein left Michigan for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There’s the NBA wish-listers like Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan and Boston’s Brad Stevens, and unlikely big splashes like Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Villanova’s Jay Wright.

No matter which direction Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel decides to go in his search, he’s not going to find another John Beilein out on the market.

But if there is one replacement who has taken a similar career path like Beilein and fits the mold, it’s Texas Tech’s Chris Beard.

“I think he's great. I'm a big Chris Beard fan,” ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “He's got an unbelievable work ethic, great energy, has the ability to connect with people. He's much more of a motion (offense) coach. He can coach anywhere and be successful.

“The timing probably isn't perfect but any big-time job that opens up, his name is going to be mentioned because what he has done is unparalleled.” 

Manuel has made it known he’d prefer to hire a proven head coach, and Beard, like Beilein, has a track record of winning at every single stop on his way up the coaching food chain.

After paying his dues as an assistant coach at Abilene Christian and North Texas, Beard, 46, got his first job as a head coach at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College, where he led the team to its first winning season in eight years. He moved on to Seminole State College (Oklahoma) and racked up 25 wins in his one year there.

He spent 10 years as an assistant coach under Bob Knight at Texas Tech before a year in the American Basketball Association with the South Carolina Warriors. He parlayed a 29-2 stint into a head coaching job with Division III McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, where he began his rapid rise up the ranks.

One year at McMurry led to two at Angelo State (Texas), where he reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division II Tournament. That led to his first Division I job at Little Rock (Arkansas), where he took a team that won 13 games the year before and turned them into a 30-win team that recorded its first NCAA Tournament victory in 30 years.

Then in 2016, Beard landed back at Texas Tech as the head coach — three weeks after he originally accepted the coaching job at UNLV — and has wasted no time building a winner in Lubbock. In his three years with the Red Raiders, he has posted a 76-31 record with appearances in the Elite Eight and national title game the past two seasons. 

Beard's Red Raiders defeated Michigan in the Sweet 16 and Michigan State in the Final Four of this year's NCAA Tournament.

Beard's success led to his signing of a new six-year contract extension with Texas Tech last month that will pay him $4.575 million a season through 2025. That figure puts him behind only Kentucky’s John Calipari ($9.3 million), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski ($7 million) and Tennessee’s Rick Barnes ($5.2 million) as the top paid basketball coaches in the nation.

"He's a great coach. He has history at Texas Tech and he proved he can win there immediately,” ESPN college basketball analyst and former Michigan player Tim McCormick said. “He's a hero and he makes a ton of money, so I think it's really going to be a challenge for Michigan to get him.

“If he was interested, I would think that that process would've already started, and it doesn't appear that that's the direction it's going."

Certainly, Beard’s new deal — which has a $3 million buyout clause for schools outside of Texas — is a hurdle and will force Michigan to dig deeper into its wallet. The Wolverines paid Beilein $3.8 million this past season, which ranked No. 10 nationally according to USA Today’s 2019 coaching salary database.

It’s not far-fetched for a head coach to sign with one school and quickly move on to another. In March, former Romulus High coach Nate Oats agreed to a five-year extension with Buffalo before leaving to take a five-year deal with Alabama two weeks later.

As McCormick pointed out, whether Beard would even be interested in Michigan is another matter, especially considering his daughters live a few hours from Lubbock.

But prior to this past season’s Sweet 16 matchup, Beard said he always looked up to Beilein due to their similar coaching backgrounds and he wanted to emulate Beilein’s program when he took over at Texas Tech. On top of that, both teams have thrived over the last two seasons by shutting down opposing offenses.

“I can't tell you how many times we have talked the last three years about Michigan basketball with our guys,” Beard said at the time. “Whether it be the defense, one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, we strive to be in that conversation or just their culture, their tradition, their fan base.”

All of that coupled with Michigan's recent riches make the opening a desirable landing spot, potentially even for Beard.

"I think based on facilities, resources and recent history that (Michigan) is a top-20 program. It's not top 10 and maybe not even top 15, but i think it's attractive and I think John Beilein proved that you can have high-level success,” McCormick said. “They’ve been so successful in the NCAA Tournament over the last seven years, so that itself should indicate that the program is really healthy and has potential to grow. And for recruits, they're top five in the last eight years in sending first-round draft picks to the league and that's pretty impressive.

“There's a lot of really high-quality factors that would make any coach at least interested.”

Chris Beard resume

► Incarnate Word, graduate assistant (1995-96)

► Abilene Christian, assistant coach (1996-97)

► North Texas, assistant coach (1997-99)

► Fort Scott CC, head coach (1999-2000), 19-12

► Seminole State College, head coach (2001-01), 25-6

► Texas Tech, assistant coach (2001-11)

► South Carolina Warriors (ABA), head coach (2011-12), 31-2

► McMurry University, head coach (2012-13), 19-10

► Angelo State University, head coach (2013-15), 47-15

► Little Rock, head coach (2015-16), 30-5

► Texas Tech, head coach (2016-19), 76-31 

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins

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