Since 2008, Texas basketball has been searching for the right man to lead them in the postseason. While some great coaches have been put in the position, the seemingly unlikeliest of them all is the one who got it done. Rodney Terry, currently still under the “Interim” tag, ended that 15 year drought this March by leading the horns to the Elite Eight. The run came to an end with a loss to Miami with a spot in the Final Four on the line. In a postseason which Texas held leads time and time again, they were unable to do so against a Hurricane team that seemingly couldn’t miss. Nonetheless, it was an impressive postseason run marked by discipline, composure, and execution until the end. The result of one man stepping up, filling a leadership vacuum, and keeping this team together to play up to their maximum potential.
But let’s back up to January, when Terry received that Interim tag following Chris Beard’s dismissal. Within the fanbase, there was very little faith that the team would hold together. Most people didn’t even know who Rodney Terry was. “The guy that used to coach UTEP? We have to try to get through the season with him?” seemed to be the prevailing thought. Terry’s first game was a very uninspiring overtime win over Rice, followed by a crushing defeat at the hands of Kansas St in which the Texas defense gave up 116 points in regulation. It seemed as if the wheels were about to fall off, and the basketball program was about to find itself in yet another rebuild. From the outside, it looked like the team had lost its leader and would not be able to recover. But in the locker room, something different was happening. The man who was thrown into this new role was actually the man who was best equipped to do the job, the man who had been preparing in the shadows for this opportunity for years. What appeared to be, and maybe was, a convenience hire, the one that had to be made despite a lack of qualifications on Terry’s part, was actually the exact opposite. It was a hire of someone who has studied the program for years, been a part of building its success two different times, and was ready to step in and lead at a moment’s notice.
Born in Angleton, Texas, Rodney Terry’s basketball career is intertwined with the Lone Star State, and Austin specifically. He played and first coached at St. Edwards before spending 5 years in the Texas High School Basketball ranks as an assistant. After a couple stops, Terry spent 9 (!!) years as an assistant for Rick Barnes at Texas. He then spent 10 years as a D1 head coach before returning to Texas as an assistant under Chris Beard. You couldn’t script a better background for a UT basketball coach, yet it is reality for Terry and most fans don’t even know.
Coach Terry is a Texas man through and through. He has been behind the scenes for the highest highs this program has ever had. He was a key piece behind the scenes in building this program, and now he has done it twice. Each step along the way, he was gaining knowledge and experience, taking it with him for the future. Beard breathed life into this program, there is no doubt about that. But recognizing the key role Terry played for Beard will help explain why he can succeed on his own. Beard’s hype got this year’s recruiting class engaged with the school. Terry sealed the deal with the recruits. He was the main recruiter for 5 stars Ron Holland and AJ Johnson, and was able to keep them in fold in the midst of uncertainty. Terry has already proved that he can recruit at the high level Texas demands, he will now need to prove he can do so through the portal as well.
Terry gets a lot of credit, rightfully so, for keeping the team together after all of the adversity early in the season. I think one thing that has flown somewhat under the radar is that he has made the team his own. He has done much more than simply maintain what his predecessor built. While the past coach built his identity around defense, this team did not live or die on the defensive side. It certainly is not exclusively their identity, as it felt it was last year. Terry brought new life into this offense, allowing his players to play more loose and confident in their individual skills. The result is an offense that is not system dependent, not determined to play at a certain pace, but dynamic, well rounded, and not dependent on one certain thing to succeed. That has come to fruition in the tournament, but especially against Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen. We saw an opponent-dependent gameplan that was fast paced, constantly attacking the basket. In previous years we have seen an offense stuck in its own system. Stuck in the idea that we just need to “do our thing” on each end and win a rock fight. Terry has led in a different way, being the aggressor on the offensive end, when needed, while playing to the strengths of the hot hand on any certain night. What made this team so dangerous was the ability to score in so many different ways, and Terry utilized that on a game by game basis by moving the offense through whoever had the hot hand that night. I’m just not sure that this offense would have flourished the way it did had the previous coach still been there.
Rodney Terry has done much more than just maintain what was built before him. He took the reins of this team and did what he needed to do to get them to succeed. He did it better than anyone could have imagined. But it was no coincidence. It was the result of years of experience and preparation for this exact moment. And while it hurts to fall just short of the Final Four, Rodney Terry’s reign has just begun at the University of Texas. His time serving in the shadows is over. He is the hero now, not the one we deserve. But certainly the one we need.