UT fires head basketball coach Chris Beard after domestic 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. (Scott Wachter-Usa Today Sports Via Reuters, Scott Wachter-Usa Today Sports Via Reuters)

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

The University of Texas at Austin has fired Texas basketball coach Chris Beard weeks after he was charged with a third-degree felony for family violence, university officials said Thursday.

“The University of Texas has parted ways with Chris Beard,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said in a statement. “This has been a difficult situation that we’ve been diligently working through.”

Beard was arrested on Dec. 12 for allegedly strangling his fiancee, Randi Trew, after Austin police responded to a 911 call at a Tarrytown home early that morning. He was released that afternoon from Travis County Jail after paying a $10,000 bond. He has a hearing in Travis County District Court on Jan. 18. Prosecutors in the Travis County District Attorney’s office said Thursday they are reviewing the case to see if it will go forward.

Perry Minton, Beard's lawyer, said in a statement published by KXAN that Beard was "crushed" at the news and said the university had "violated their agreement with the coach."

"At the outset of Coach Beard’s suspension, The University promised they would conduct an independent investigation surrounding the allegations and make a decision regarding his employment only after they had done so," Minton said. "They proceeded to terminate Coach Beard without asking a single question of him or his fiancé."

In a letter that UT-Austin's legal team sent to Minton and provided to KXAN, UT-Austin Vice President for Legal Affairs Jim Davis said the university "exercised thoughtful restraint to allow time for additional material facts to emerge," before acting.

"Mr. Del Conte supported Mr. Beard and the program by supporting this pause before action and by presuming his innocence while the facts unfolded. But that support was not a determination regarding Mr. Beard's conduct — such a decision would have been premature," Davis wrote. "It is a mistake to view a manager's support for an employee as a statement of belief in criminal guilt or innocence. It is his actual behavior that we consider, not whether some acts also constitute a crime. Whether or not the District Attorney ultimately charges Mr. Beard is not determinative of whether he engaged in conduct unbecoming a head coach at our university."

Beard’s contract contained a standard clause among agreements with UT-Austin 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,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Since Beard was fired for cause, the university does not need to pay out the remainder of his contract, according to UT-Austin senior communications manager Brian Davis.

Beard was in his second season of a seven-year contract with Texas that paid around $5 million annually, as well as additional perks. He was one of the university’s highest-paid employees.

According to a copy of the arrest affidavit posted on Twitter by Orangebloods reporter Anwar Richardson, Beard’s fiancee alleged that the two got in an argument when she grabbed Beard’s glasses out of his hands and broke them. She alleged that he slapped her glasses off her face and then choked her with his arm from behind for around five seconds.

“He choked me, threw me off the bed, bit me, bruises all over my leg,” she told police, according to the affidavit. Trew told police that she could not breathe while Beard had his arm around her neck. In the affidavit, police noted visible teeth marks and redness in a bite mark on her right forearm.

Following the arrest, UT-Austin suspended Beard, withheld his pay and launched an internal investigation.

“The University takes matters of interpersonal violence involving members of its community seriously,” university officials said in a statement.

On Dec. 23, Trew released a statement on Twitter denying that Beard strangled her and stating that Beard told police he was acting in self-defense.

“I do not refute that,” she said in the statement. “I do not believe Chris was trying to intentionally harm me in any way. It was never my intent to have him arrested or prosecuted.”

In a statement to the Statesman at the time, Minton called Trew “a smart and independent woman.”

“I think everyone should allow her to have her voice in this matter,” he said.

The university said at the time it was reviewing the statement from Trew. According to records obtained by the Statesman via an open records request, Beard was offered a chance to resign but refused.

According to the Statesman, Minton wrote UT saying, “I want to be on record as emphatically stating, and herein memorializing, that Coach Beard has not done anything to violate any provision of his contract with the University of Texas.”

Minton did not immediately respond to The Texas Tribune’s request for comment on Beard’s firing.

While Beard could sue the university over the termination, it could be a difficult case to win.

Texas law protects the state and its entities from lawsuits, even in cases in which an entity violates a contract. Former Texas Tech University football coach Mike Leach — who died suddenly last month from complications of a heart attack — was caught in a legal battle with the university since 2009 over his firing, accusing the university of wrongful termination.

Associate head coach Rodney Terry will remain UT’s acting head coach for the rest of the Longhorn season.

“We thank Coach Rodney Terry for his exemplary leadership both on and off the court at a time when our team needed it most,” Del Conte said.

Disclosure: Texas Tech University and University of Texas at Austin 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.