UT suspends head basketball coach after family violence arrest

Chris Beard, head coach of the Texas Longhorns mens basketball team, during the second half of a game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Moody Center in Austin on Nov. 16, 2022. (Scott Wachter-Usa Today Sports Via Reuters, Scott Wachter-Usa Today Sports Via Reuters)

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The University of Texas at Austin has suspended men’s head basketball coach Chris Beard without pay as he faces a third-degree felony charge for family violence.

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Beard, 49, was arrested early Monday morning for allegedly strangling his fiancée after Austin police responded to a 911 call at a home in Tarrytown. He was released Monday afternoon from Travis County Jail after paying a $10,000 bond.

UT-Austin said in a statement later in the day that it “will withhold his pay until further notice.” Beard is in the second season of a seven-year contract with the Longhorns that pays around $5 million a year on top of various perks.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Beard’s contract contains a standard UT-Austin clause that allows the university to suspend or fire him with cause for any behavior that is “unbecoming” or leads to a criminal charge “involving a felony, or any crime involving theft, dishonesty, or moral turpitude.” “The University takes matters of interpersonal violence involving members of its community seriously,” read the statement.

Perry Minton, Beard’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to The Texas Tribune. But in a comment to the American-Statesman, he said Beard should be free.

“He should never have been arrested,” Minton told the newspaper. “The complainant wants him released immediately and all charges dismissed. It is truly inconceivable.”

UT-Austin has cut short the contracts of other coaches in recent years. The university fired football coach Tom Herman in January 2021 when he still had three years left on his contract — a portion worth $15 million. In 2016, the university fired football coach Charlie Strong after three struggling years, giving him a buyout of about $10 million for the remaining two seasons.

But the criminal charge makes Beard’s situation different from these cases, according to Len Elmore, a lawyer, TV announcer and Columbia University lecturer on sports management who was formerly a professional basketball player. While UT-Austin’s final decision remains to be seen, Elmore said a termination with cause would likely spare the university from paying Beard a hefty buyout. And it’s possible that there could be settlement negotiations to avoid litigation.

“At this point, it’s too early to say, but that suspension without pay is significant enough,” he said.

Beard arrived at UT-Austin in 2021, and the university also had to pay $4 million to buy out his contract at Texas Tech University. The deal makes him one of the highest-paid college men’s basketball coaches, as well as one of the most well-paid employees in the University of Texas System. Beard replaced Shaka Smart, who coached the Longhorns for six seasons and saw little national success during that time. Smart left UT-Austin and started as head coach for Marquette in March 2021.

Associate head coach Rodney Terry filled in for Beard in Monday’s game against Rice University.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas System, Rice University and Texas Tech University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.