By the close of the 2022-23 Ole Miss Men’s Basketball season, the team proved ill-equipped to compete in the mighty SEC. The 12-21 overall record was the worst winning percentage in nearly 30 years for the Rebels on the court. Even worse, the team put up a bottom-10 conference record in school history, winning only 16.7% of its interconference duels.
From that season Rebel fans would like to forget, we learned a few things.
We learned that the NIL is not only critical to having a successful football team, but is also necessary to have an even somewhat competitive basketball squad. We learned that the transfer portal is both the valuable tool Lane Kiffin hangs his hat on and also a form of recruitment that we must pay attention to address off-season turnover and build a competent roster.
In so many words, we learned that we needed a new coach and face of the program. While Kermit Davis helped lead the Rebels to their only March Madness berth in the past eight seasons, he was unable to adapt Ole Miss’ program in order to keep up with the changing landscape of college hoops.
If only an acclaimed free-agent coach who had taken his programs as far as the National Championship in recent years was floating on the market. Enter Chris Beard, an exceptional coach who boasts a 70% winning percentage over the first eight seasons of his career.
One way or another, Ole Miss’ athletic department convinced this accomplished coach that the ‘Sip is the place to be.
If you have any common sense, this story sounds too good to be true. That coach wants to go where? Why would he do something like that? Let’s broaden the scope a bit to contextualize this process.
Beard was relieved of his duties with the University of Texas in early 2023 following a months-long suspension after a third-degree felony strangulation charge was brought against him in December 2022. A police report from the incident and Beard’s arrest quotes his fiance Randi Trew, the alleged victim in this incident, saying, “(Beard) choked me, bit me, bruises all over my leg, throwing me around.”
Beard would go on to admit a role in a domestic encounter with his fiancée that December evening, arguing that he was acting in self-defense. Trew would recant her earlier claims of violent choking by Beard and painted herself as the aggressor in the conflict.
On Feb. 15, the Travis County District Attorney’s office announced they would not further pursue the case or prosecution. Not even a month later, on March 13, Beard was hired as the Rebel’s 23rd head coach.
That move was more than a questionable look for the athletic department and all of the donors and fans who supported the decision with little to no hesitancy. As a sports fan, I understand wanting your team to win by any means necessary. Usually when fans say that, it’s a figure of speech. I fear Ole Miss took it too literally. Now, we have a winning record to open the season, but at what cost?
With this hiring, Ole Miss has unfortunately become yet another institution that does not take domestic violence allegations seriously, whether the sports administration admits to it or not.
I ask this question: What if a student acted in that manner and received those criminal charges?
Or, a hellish hypothetical for the athletics department to ponder, a student-athlete?
What if it was a professor?
It is critical to understand that a student, professor, sorority girl, fraternity boy, chess club member, Esports star, Rebel Market enthusiast, Einstein Bros. frequenter or faculty member would likely not receive this sort of mercy from the university.
Proponents of Beard’s hiring would likely argue that he is innocent in the eyes of the criminal justice system and that all of this transpired prior to any involvement with the university. True enough. Still, the ambiguity and severity of the events that may have transpired leaves a glaring hole of doubt and concern.
Time and time again we see prominent industry heads like Beard crawl out of similar situations accountability free with only their reputations taking a hit. Despite the concerns this incident raised, Beard successfully found a university desperate enough to welcome him with open arms.
Winning may solve everything, but it doesn’t fix character concerns. In the grand scheme of things, Beard lost nothing this time around considering that his freedom and liberty were at risk. Not even a year later, he’s the figurehead for another D-1, Power-5 basketball program. Ultimately, is Chris Beard, and the baggage he’s brought to Oxford, what you want leading a group of young men?
Justice Rose is the opinion editor. He is a junior journalism major from Madison, Miss.