Texas’ Rodney Terry is Sporting News’ College Basketball Coach of the Year

One of the many oddities of life as a Division I college basketball coach comes the day you are placed in a position that you have dreamed of throughout your career and have worked towards since you were old enough to have one Bounce ball with a goal. could be described as “a long day for us”.

Rodney Terry never expected to become the head coach of the Texas Longhorns. He didn’t expect to become the head coach of the Texas Longhorns in any capacity. The idea was to leave his position as head coach at UTEP in April 2021 to become assistant head coach at UT under his new boss Chris Beard and achieve enough success to potentially become a candidate for a major conference position elsewhere.

In early December, that simple plan was indelibly altered by Beard’s arrest for third-degree assault, leading to his immediate suspension from the University of Texas and his termination less than a month later. When this news broke, it was clear that the basketball season in Texas was going to be different. We don’t need to go into the details of the arrest documents – which are horrible and easy to research – because that’s not the point here.

No, this is about how Terry dealt with the aftermath of “so,” taking on responsibilities as assistant head coach and then interim head coach, managing to hold together a Longhorns team that could easily have collapsed, and how he overcame that circumstance led to his selection as The Sporting News Coach of the Year for the 2022-23 college basketball season.

MORE: 2022-23 All-America Team by Sporting News

Beard was arrested on December 12 and suspended once the university got the details. The Longhorns were the Associated Press’s No. 12 team in the preseason and were 7-1 at the start of the day, with victories over Gonzaga and Creighton and their only loss to Illinois due to a late lead. On the Texan men’s basketball schedule that night was a game against Rice at the program’s new home at the Moody Center.

Terry knew he would be officiating this game, but not what would happen after it. He was not named “permanent interim coach” until Beard was officially fired on January 5.

“It was a gear change for everyone,” Terry said. “I think our people – I have really good people who have a lot of experience; two guys who were head coaches – they really helped with that transition too. From that point on, we’ve tried to really get the guys into it: we’re going to control what we can control and we’re going to try to play the kind of season we expected from the start. ”

Texas worked overtime to win this game. Senior guard Marcus Carr saved the Horns with 28 points on a night as his teammates shot 1-of-15 from 3-point range. That night, it very much seemed like the Longhorns’ promise was about to unravel. They would be one of those teams that became less than the sum of their cumulative talents.

Instead, they won 11 of their next 14 games. Terry urged the team to play faster; it was his only variation on the Longhorns’ approach. They then went on to defeat each of the other nine teams in the Big 12 Conference at least once, with sweeps over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Their decisive win on the final day over league champions Kansas left them the lone runner-up, a game ahead of third-place finishers Kansas State and Baylor.

“Obviously when things happen it’s almost impossible not to think about certain things,” Carr told The Sporting News. “But at the same time, you want to put all your attention and focus on things that you can control. That was the message he kept preaching to us.

“We didn’t have a lot of information yet, so we didn’t know what was going to happen in the future. We just had to focus on winning the game. I think a lot of teams may not have reacted the way we did.”

Carr, who was raised in Toronto, is playing for his third college in his sixth year and fifth season, and Terry became his fourth head coach.

“Definitely all coaches are different. They have their own style of coaching, their own kind of niche that they carve out,” Carr said. “But RT, I would say he’s a big energy guy. He comes every single morning before training, and every morning is a good morning. It’s a great day to be here, a great day to be alive. I think it’s all about approach and the way he conveys that to us ensures that you wake up each day with a good attitude before anything else.

“And as far as real coaching goes, Xs and Os, he’s a great defensive coach, offense coach too. He really knows how to push us to the next level on defense, giving us the freedom to play and giving us confidence too. It was definitely a pleasure playing for RT.”

Terry, 54, is from Angleton, Tex, a small town just south of Houston. He played at College St. Edwards, a Division II program in Austin, where he began his coaching career in 1990 before transferring to three different high schools in the state, including his alma mater. The point you can see is that Terry is a guy from Texas. Aside from his time at UNC Wilmington as an assistant to Jerry Wainwright and his seven seasons as a head coach at Fresno State, he has lived in the state his entire life.

That includes his decade as an assistant coach for the Longhorns under Rick Barnes, during which they reached a Final Four and recruited elite talent like Kevin Durant, La Marcus Aldridge and Tristan Thompson, the last of whom happened to be from suburban Toronto. When Terry was brought back two years ago to be the Longhorns’ defense coordinator in language I’m sure Texas folks can understand, Carr was able to get a quick assessment from people who were in contact with Terry during the recruiting process a decade earlier.

“RT was definitely well known in my town and had relationships with a lot of guys. Then when he turned to me and I spoke to my circle of people, they said, ‘Yeah, we know Rodney,'” Carr said. “He was super easy to get to know and we were definitely able to develop a relationship pretty quickly.”

Terry’s exuberant personality helps him bond with his players, but ensuring these Longhorns push themselves to perform at their best took more. A head coach needs to be able to connect with his players without them seeing him as malleable.

“I just kept being me,” Terry told TSN. “I didn’t want to be anything I wasn’t. These guys know me as RT, and they know me as a guy who will hold them accountable at a very high level – previously on defense. And now that accountability became all-encompassing, became on-court, off-court, and I was the guy in the decision-making position. But the respect was already there. In that respect, it wasn’t a big transition.”

Terry received a sizeable raise over his assistant head coach’s salary for taking on the head coaching duties, but there was no announcement or suggestion as to what Texas might do with the position in the future.

He has an impressive resume as a head coach. In 2011-12, he inherited a Fresno State program that had had one successful season in the previous six years and three in the decade after Jerry Tarkanian last coached in 2002. In Terry’s third year, the Bulldogs went to a winning run in the CBI thanks to 21-18, and in his fifth they went 25-10 and reached the NCAA tournament. He went with four seasons with 20 wins in seven years. At UTEP, he turned an 8-win program in his freshman year into 17 in his sophomore.

His record with those Longhorns is 16-7, including 12-6 in the deepest league in college basketball history. There were no bad teams, no gimme wins in the Big 12. The Horns grabbed a bunch anyway. Texas is trending towards a No. 2 seed for the NCAA tournament as the Big 12 tournament approaches, a feat last accomplished in Texas in 2008.

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There weren’t any real surprises associated with this team, although a road loss to Texas Tech hurt a little. That said, there wasn’t until I asked Carr if he’d said anything publicly about whether Terry deserves a promotion to full-time Longhorns head coach.

He told me he hadn’t been asked.

“If that opportunity arises, I would definitely be someone who would advocate for RT to fill that role. I feel like not only what he has accomplished this year but also his overall coaching résumé has been impressive. He’s a great coach. He loves Texas. He was involved in many of the glory days in Texas. He knows what is important here. He knows this community. He has a fondness for the university. And at the end of the day, he’s just a great coach.”

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