Rodney Terry took over the head coaching job at Texas under impossible circumstances. Now, he has the Longhorns two wins from the Final Four.
Rodney Terry knows a thing or two about the University of Texas.
It runs deeper than just the nine years he spent there as an assistant under Rick Barnes. Or the season-plus he spent on Chris Beard’s staff, or the job he’s done this year as interim head coach.
“When you coach at Texas, you are here to try to win a national championship,” Terry told Boardroom. “Being a native Texan and a grad, a guy that grew up in the state of Texas, I have a lot of pride in being the flagship program of this state. I love Texas. I love Austin.”
By now, college basketball fans know Terry’s story — or at least the one that’s played out over the last five months. He was Beard’s assistant when the now-former head coach was arrested on a third-degree felony assault charge. Texas suspended Beard that day and thrust Terry into the role of interim head coach. That same night, Texas outlasted Rice in overtime.
From there, they caught fire.
The Longhorns ultimately went 12-6 in the Big 12, winning the conference tournament and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With a hard-fought win over Penn State on March 18, Texas punched a ticket to the Sweet 16. and were installed as favorites for a March 24 date against Xavier.
This is Texas’s first Sweet 16 since 2008, bringing the Longhorns within two wins of their first Final Four since 2003.
Terry was an assistant on both of those teams.
That means he was also on staff when Texas brought in Kevin Durant, the biggest name to come through the program to date. KD got to know Terry first on the recruiting trail, and then as one of his coaches. Now plying his trade in Phoenix, Durant is watching his alma mater from afar.
“[Terry] has led this team on and off the court as well as anyone could have expected,” Durant told us exclusively. “To see them in the Sweet 16 with as a good a shot to win the national championship as anyone is a testament to the amazing job he’s done. The program is in an amazing place.”
Terry has experience as a head coach, though this is his first year leading a power conference team. He took over the Fresno State job in 2011, and after struggling at the start, built an NCAA Tournament squad in 2016. The Bulldogs won 20 or more games each of Terry’s last three seasons at the helm before he moved to UTEP to begin another rebuilding project in 2018.
“[I] had to really just come in and build a roster, build a culture, and, really just try to build the infrastructure of a program,” he said. “Through that process, I got a chance to really learn roster management, putting a team together in one year that has a chance to try to be successful.”
Though Terry was only in El Paso for three years, he was able to experience the drawbacks that can come with mid-major life in the modern era, losing his best players to the transfer portal and effectively having to re-recruit his team every season.
He was able to take the good and bad with him to Texas when Beard asked him to join his staff in 2021. The current Longhorn roster leans significantly on experienced transfers, including Marcus Carr (Minnesota), Timmy Allen (Utah), Sir’Jabari Rice (New Mexico State), Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt), and Tyrese Hunter (Iowa State).
While he was once a victim of the portal, Terry now embraces it, using his roster Tetris skills to find the pieces that mesh perfectly both on and off the court.
“This game’s only gonna give you what you put into it,” Terry said. “And I think a lot of our guys have made a lot of sacrifices for wanting to come here and be a part of a winning program. But I think in the same token, they’ve really embodied what we want from guys in terms of understanding.”
An Impossible Situation
Rodney Terry didn’t think he was coming to Austin to be a head coach, but that was the situation he was thrust into on Dec. 12 after Beard’s arrest.
Texas suspended him that day pending an investigation, and Terry was suddenly the interim head coach just hours before tip-off against Rice.
“The first message I had to our guys was [that] there’s always gonna be adversity in your life, whether it be basketball or personal,” Terry said. “We have very high goals for this season. They’re all right there in front of us. We control what happens the rest of the season in terms of our attitude, our approach every single day. And everything’s there for us.”
The team’s talent level didn’t change when Terry replaced Beard. This was still the same roster with the same on-paper potential, but few could have blamed the Longhorns if Dec. 12 had marked the beginning of their downfall. The media circus could have been too much. A coach they didn’t hire to lead them was suddenly in charge. The routines that players go through in-season was permanently altered.
It was Terry’s job to make sure that didn’t happen, and in doing so, he gained greater admiration from his peers.
“Rodney has done an unbelievable job,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He inherited a tough situation. The league was super competitive — he wins the Big 12 Tournament, and a Sweet 16 appearance is impressive. Texas is playing as good of basketball as anybody in the tournament.”
Few isn’t alone. Rick Barnes, who might know the Texas job better than anyone, agreed.
“Rodney has done a tremendous job,” Barnes said Wednesday prior to his Tennessee Volunteers’ Sweet 16 game against Florida Atlantic. “For him to slide over and the way he’s handled it with an older group of guys, I’m not sure anyone else in the country could have done it any better.”
March and Beyond
Everyone can see the elephant in the room. As Texas advances in the tournament, the whispers will only grow louder.
We don’t know who the head men’s basketball coach at Texas is going to be next November.
Rodney Terry has made his case for the job simply by winning basketball games — the single most important thing a coach can do in the eyes of his athletic department and its boosters. There are also rumors that athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to conduct a national search, perhaps pulling a flashier name from a program few other schools could hope to poach from.
Kentucky’s John Calipari has long been a rumored candidate, though the logistics of working out a deal there seems difficult. Name any other successful high-major coach and you can probably find a message board expert somewhere who thinks they’d be a good pick.
One should expect Del Conte to do his due diligence, but the farther Texas goes in March the louder the calls will be to hire Terry full-time. The coach himself wants the job, unsurprisingly, but he has far bigger things to worry about here and now.
“I came back here to try to win a national championship,” he said, “and we don’t shy away from those expectations. It’s what we signed up for.”
The Longhorns’ road to the Final Four continues on Friday night against a Musketeers team that has won seven of its last eight games, and after staving off an upset bid from Kennesaw State in the First Round, controlled Pitt to reach the Sweet 16.
For now, Terry is game-planning for Xavier’s shooting ability, interior presence, and ability to score in transition.
As he told his players, everything is right there for them.
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