AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Every game the Texas Longhorns play feels like an audition for interim coach Rodney Terry.
At some point, the school must decide if he deserves a callback.
What would that take? A Big 12 championship? A deep run into the NCAA Tournament? Texas hasn't won the league's regular-season title or made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since doing both in 2008.
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte won't discuss the search for a permanent replacement for Chris Beard, who was fired Jan. 5, or whether Terry is a top candidate for the position.
But the AD can see what everyone else can: Texas (17-3, 6-2 Big 12) is ranked No. 10, shares first place in the Big 12 and hasn't missed a step since Beard was first suspended on Dec. 12 and then fired following his arrest on a felony domestic violence charge.
“I’m really proud of what they are doing,” Del Conte said of the team this week. “I couldn’t be more pleased for him and our entire team.”
Terry, who was the head coach at Fresno State and UTEP before joining Beard’s Texas staff, also deflects questions about his future in burnt orange and whether he's thinking about it every time he's on the court.
“The thing I can control right now is working with these guys every single day. I love the team that we have. They believe in what we're trying to get done,” Terry said. “I'm a firm believer in living where your feet are and living in the moment. Enjoy this season, this journey. Tomorrow is not promised to us.”
Terry took over a team that's deep in veteran experience and maturity. Star guard and leading scorer Marcus Carr is a sixth-year graduate student. Forward Timmy Allen, the second leading scorer, is a fifth-year senior. Both are 23 years old.
Sixth man Sir'Jabari Rice is a graduate transfer from New Mexico State and the Longhorns' go-to player to put games away in the final minutes with his 86% free-throw shooting — third in the Big 12.
Texas players have described the confusion that surrounded Beard's arrest, suspension and ultimate firing. Carr said the older players quickly redirected the focus to the basketball court and not the courtroom.
In return, Texas is 10-2 under Terry, with its only losses coming against No. 5 Kansas State and No. 12 Iowa State, the two teams at the top of the Big 12 with the Longhorns.
Terry wasn't a stranger to Texas, having served on Rick Barnes' Longhorns staff from 2002-2011.
Terry and Barnes will see each other again Saturday when the Longhorns play at No. 4 Tennessee in the Big 12/SEC challenge. When they were together at Texas, the Longhorns had their greatest decade in program history: two national players of the year in T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant and making the Final Four in 2003 and the Elite Eight in 2006 and 2008.
Terry said Barnes called him after he led Texas to an overtime win over Rice, which came just hours after Beard was first suspended.
“He said to me, ‘Be prepared to will this team throughout the course of the rest of this season, and you’re more than prepared for this opportunity ... Go out and enjoy the ride try to take these guys as far as you can take them," Terry said.
Beard was hired to jumpstart a program that became stagnant in Barnes' final years and couldn't break through under Shaka Smart. It was working, too. Last season, Texas got its first NCAA Tournament win since 2014. Beard also pushed for people to come to Texas' new arena, the Moody Center, and connected with fans during his campus “fireside chats.”
Then came the arrest and the charges, and Terry's takeover.
Terry recently stepped into the spotlight a bit by appearing on a weekly radio show and a television program on the Longhorn Network. Del Conte said putting Terry in those slots fulfills network contract obligations.
But they also allow Terry to build his own voice as the leader of the Longhorns program, one that he insists is a player-led team.
“You put your players first,” Terry said. “I don't need to be the face of the program. My face is not pretty enough.”
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