Beard introduced as Runnin’ Rebels coach

Better late than never.

Eighty-nine days after Dave Rice was fired as head coach, UNLV finally officially hired his replacement when Chris Beard’s five-year, $5.75 million contract was approved by a 9-4 vote by the Nevada Board of Regents on Friday afternoon.

The school announced Beard’s hiring back on March 28th but had to wait until the Board of Regents — never ones to pass up a chance to bask in the limelight — approved the contract before formally introducing the 12th full-time head coach in Runnin’ Rebels history.

“We’ll be the hardest playing team in college basketball,” Beard said. “I can’t promise a lot but I can promise you that we’ll be the hardest playing team in college basketball next season.”

The 43-year-old Beard became a hot name after earning Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year honors after leading Little Rock to a program-best 30-5 overall record and fifth NCAA Tournament appearance. The Trojans, who won the Sun Belt’s regular-season and tournament titles, rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final 3:33 of regulation to upset fifth-seeded Purdue, 85-83, in double overtime in the first round on the Midwest Regional in Denver. Little Rock then lost to fourth-seeded Iowa State, 78-61, in the round of 32.

Beard spent 10 seasons as an assistant at Texas Tech, including seven under the legendary Bobby Knight. He also compiled a 47-15 record in two seasons as head coach at Division II Angelo State in San Angelo, Texas where he was named Lone Star Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Rams to a program-record 28 wins in the 2014-15 season and first-ever NCAA Division II Sweet Sixteen appearance.

Beard said he was still in the process of putting his staff together and hasn’t hired any assistant coaches yet.

“There’s an urgency in these things where you want to get people in and start working, but I think more importantly than doing it quickly is doing it right,” Beard said. “We’ll end up having a great coaching staff mainly because of UNLV and because of Las Vegas. My phone’s ringing off the hook with qualified people that want to come in here and help us. We’ll put a staff together that’s not only talented, but works together.”

He said he has been busy laying the groundwork for recruiting while waiting for his contract to be approved. The next few months will be key in that regard as six players have departed since the end of another disappointing 18-15 season. The latest was 6-foot-10 shot blocker Chris Obekpa, a senior transfer from St. John’s who decided to apply for the NBA Draft on Friday after redshirting last year.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to hit the ground running,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting with the players here and getting on the phone tonight with recruits. We have a recruiting period that starts (Saturday). We can get on the road. Just excited more than anything.”

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