Rodney Terry is proving he deserves to be Texas’ head coach permanently
College Football Writer
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte is used to making big, bold decisions.
While in the same position at TCU, he jumped in his car one day in the middle of conference realignment chaos to drive down and sit outside then-Longhorns AD Deloss Dodds’ office for several hours. The two eventually went out for a meal in which Del Conte convinced Dodds that the Horned Frogs would be a perfect fit for the Big 12 (an official invite followed shortly afterward).
In one of his first big acts upon taking over in Austin, Del Conte showed Tom Herman the door as football coach after a top-20 finish and bowl win to end the season, swiftly installing Steve Sarkisian. A few months later, the athletic director was out front in helping engineer UT’s shocking departure for the SEC.
In the wake of second-seeded Texas moving past No. 10 Penn State 71-66 on Saturday evening, though, it might be time for Del Conte to make his boldest move yet and finally – and officially – take that interim tag off head coach Rodney Terry’s title and make his tenure a permanent one in the state capital.
“Texas is back where we need to be,” a jubilant but measured Terry told the broadcast afterward, trying to speak loudly enough to overcome the shouts of glee from every player on the team showering him with love.
It was an emotional moment for all in burnt orange. Not just the result of a gutsy battle back after losing their eight-point halftime lead to fend off the Nittany Lions late but because it rightfully put the spotlight on the coach who has been the players’ rock through much of these turbulent past few months ever since former coach Chris Beard was fired following his arrest in early December in a domestic violence incident.
It was apt that it was Terry who was finally front and center for Texas’ moment, celebrating the team’s first Sweet 16 trip in 15 years. An Angleton native (outside Houston, the site of this year’s Final Four) who played college ball just down the road from the Moody Center at Division II St. Edwards, he was one of Rick Barnes’ lead assistants the last time UT made it to the second weekend, earning a reputation as a terrific recruiter in bringing Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, Tristan Thompson and others to the 40 Acres.
“I’m used to Sweet 16s at Texas, to be honest with you,” said Terry, who was also head coach at Fresno State and UTEP. “I’m not bragging, but when I was here before, we were in Sweet 16s quite a bit.”
Now in his second stint with the program across 11 years, Terry is finally earning attention not just for who is on the roster but how they’re playing on the court – pulling all the right levers yet again as Texas won their sixth in a row.
Case in point came with a timeout taken with 4:42 to go, breaking up a 10-0 run by Penn State in which they swarmed UT into four misses from the field and a handful of turnovers.
But the break proved to be just what the Longhorns needed, resulting in an immediate layup that sparked a run to retake a lead they never gave up again as Texas made all six of its shots until the final buzzer.
Perhaps the message from Terry in the huddle was a simple one: Get it to Dylan Disu.
The senior from just up the road in Pflugerville (by way of Vanderbilt) was easily the best player on the court, notching a program-record 14 made field-goals in an NCAA Tournament game to surpass Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge and finish with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
The effort helped push Texas to a remarkable 8-0 under their interim head coach in games decided by five points or fewer – a stat made all the more noteworthy given the latest came in a game where it survived 11 straight misses from beyond the arc before Sir’Jabari Rice finally rattled home Texas’ only made 3-pointer of the night with 8:32 left.
No matter what the school’s brass ends up deciding to do with Terry, the run he’s gone on with the Longhorns might still end up being one of the best-timed in recent memory for anybody with aspirations of landing one of the best jobs in the country. The team beat Kansas twice in a week before cutting down the nets in the Big 12 Tournament and will head right back to Kansas City after two big wins in chilly Des Moines coincided with also seeing bitter rival Texas A&M suffer an early exit from the Big Dance on Thursday.
UT will now advance to play either a Pitt squad that began its run in the First Four as one of the final teams into the field or the same Xavier side that needed a little luck to escape the upset bid mounted by Kennesaw State on Friday. Should Texas advance from there, a trip to the Final Four would come against either a banged-up Houston in the Elite Eight or either of equally flawed Miami and Indiana.
A manageable path to say the least, especially for a group with the talent to make it all the way to basketball’s ultimate prize not far from where Terry grew up.
If the Longhorns can end up making the trip down Highway 290 to NRG Stadium, Texas might as well draw up the contract or risk a fan revolt.
In that case, Del Conte would happily make the tradeoff of a magical hoops run for what would have previously been labeled an unimaginative hire – much as it would pain the AD to not land a big fish after plenty of speculation that high-profile candidates like Kentucky’s John Calipari were among those on the administration’s shortlist.
After all, it doesn’t scream bold to hire a coach whose career record hovers just above the .500 mark. But after what Terry has proved with a gritty group of players this March, it might just be the right thing to do for a Texas program that looks primed to keep rolling and take the decision out of its hands.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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