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How Contract Language Could Impact Texas’ Handling of the Chris Beard Investigation

On the morning of December 12th, the college basketball world was rocked when Texas coach Chris Beard was arrested and charged with assault on a family member. Every time we hear a prominent athlete or coach involved in a legal matter like this, it’s always disturbing and unfortunate in and of itself. But for it to be Chris Beard, one of the best acting coaches in the sport, was shocking, to say the least.

After the reports surfaced, the University of Texas suspended Beard indefinitely and announced that Rodney Terry would serve as acting head coach for the Longhorns. Prior to his arrest, Beard’s team was off to one of the program’s best starts to a season in program history. The Longhorns had already knocked off two top-ten opponents and were ranked seventh in the country by the AP Poll. Over the past two weeks, however, all the attention on the Texas men’s basketball program has shifted toward the status of Chris Beard moving forward.

In the immediate aftermath and fallout, the common sentiment was that Beard had coached his last game at Texas. In a statement released following the incident, Austin police spokesman Brandon Jones said Beard was accused of choking the victim, which turned out to be his fiancée, Randi Trew. According to Austin Police's Dec. 12 affidavit, after the 9-1-1 call dispatched officers to Beard's residence, Trew told law enforcement authorities that Beard "choked me, threw me off the bed, bit me, bruises all over my leg, throwing me around, and going nuts." Authorities noted multiple wounds and scratches on Trew's body that morning.

In reading that, any reasonable person could conclude that Beard’s coaching career was in serious jeopardy. For around ten days, no new information surfaced to the public as the Longhorns continued to complete the non-conference portion of their schedule.

However, on December 23rd, Trew released a statement that added some complexity to the situation. In a statement sent to The Associated Press by her attorney, Randy Leavitt, Trew said she is "deeply saddened" by the incident and said Beard was acting in self-defense from her.

"Chris and I are deeply saddened that we have brought negative attention upon our family, friends, and the University of Texas, among others. As Chris' fiancée and biggest supporter, I apologize for the role I played in this unfortunate event. I realize that my frustration, when breaking his glasses, initiated a physical struggle between Chris and myself," Trew said in the statement.

In addition, she backtracked on her original comments, saying that "Chris did not strangle me, and I told that to law enforcement that evening. Chris has stated that he was acting in self-defense, and I do not refute that. I do not believe Chris was trying to intentionally harm me in any way. It was never my intent to have him arrested or prosecuted. We appreciate everyone's support and prayers during this difficult time.”

While Trew’s statement might come as a surprise and obviously help Beard’s outlook, it’s very common for these types of situations to play out this way. As time passes, many victims of domestic assault realize the magnitude of the consequences involved and recant their original allegations.

Despite Trew’s comments, Beard is by no means off the hook legally as we sit here in late December. Given this is a domestic violence case, Texas prosecutors still have the right to pursue the third-degree felony charge against Beard, even if Trew requested that the charge be dropped. With the timing of Trew’s statement, (Friday evening the weekend of Christmas), Austin Police's public information offices were closed, and no authorities were available to officially comment on the case. It will be interesting to follow what happens as it pertains to Beard’s legal standing moving forward.

But what about Beard’s standing as Texas’ coach? Following Trew’s comments, the University of Texas released a statement saying "We are reviewing the statement from Randi Trew. This matter is the subject of an internal investigation, and the university does not comment on pending investigations.” As of December 29th, Beard remains suspended without pay.

Obviously, how the Austin Police Department handles the case will play a big role in determining if Beard will coach again for the Longhorns. But what if all charges are indeed dropped and he is legally exonerated? Does Texas reinstate him immediately? Does he stay suspended for the remainder of the season? Does Texas fire him for cause? Is this a situation where there is a negotiated buyout? That’s where things get tricky. The language in Beard’s contract might play a significant role in how this is handled.

When Beard arrived in Austin in 2021, he received one of the largest contracts in all of college basketball. His seven-year, $35 million deal trails only Bill Self, Jon Calipari, and Tom Izzo. The deal is fully guaranteed, except if Texas fires Beard with cause. Obviously, the million dollar (or $27 million dollar) question now is: Does this situation constitute as cause?

The answer might come from a clause in his contract. Per the Austin American Statesmen, the University of Texas has a “clause in the contract allows the university to terminate or suspend Beard with cause if "Any conduct (a) that the University administration reasonably determines is clearly unbecoming to a Head Coach and reflects poorly on the University, the Program, or The University of Texas System; or (b) resulting in a criminal charge being brought against Head Coach involving a felony, or any crime involving theft, dishonesty, or moral turpitude."

Given that Beard was in fact charged, this clause would likely spare the university from paying Beard the remaining amount of money on the deal. While the language might suggest Texas can easily fire Beard for cause, it’s far from being a simple process.

Beard’s attorney stated that “He should never have been arrested,” and that “The complainant wants him released immediately and all charges dismissed. It is truly inconceivable.” Those comments suggest that Beard and his legal team won’t back down if Texas decides to terminate him without any buyout.

Therefore, the big question remains: how will Texas handle this situation? I believe they can go one of three ways. First would be reinstating Beard as their head coach. Second would be adhering strictly to the language of the contract and terminating him for cause. And third would be still terminating Beard, but negotiating a settlement with Beard and his camp.

In the meantime, Texas continues to win games under associate head coach Rodney Terry. The Longhorns are set to begin conference play in the coming days. Will Beard return as their coach? That’s yet to be seen. However, Texas does have the contractual capacity to terminate its second-year coach for cause. Will they use it? When millions of dollars are at stake, things get very complex.

Brendan can be found on Twitter @_bbell5

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