There will be one certainty when Texas Tech hosts Texas at 3 p.m. today in the regular-season finale.
Ty Nurse, Tech’s lone senior, will play his last game inside United Spirit Arena.
But whether his coach, Chris Walker, will be making his last appearance at the same venue, well, that’s not as clear a proposition.
A Tech spokesman this week said there is no timetable for a decision to be made on the future of Walker, who has coached with an interim label this year after taking over just days before the start of official practices in October. He replaced Billy Gillispie, who resigned citing health reasons in September. A decision will be announced some time after Tech’s season ends, which will be next week in the Big 12 tournament barring a miraculous run.
But whether coaching news is announced the next day or weeks after is unclear.
Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt released a statement in late January that said the school would continue to operate with Walker as the interim coach through the duration of the season.
He added: “The way Chris Walker has represented the university and the basketball program has been exceptional. I’m very proud of the way he’s handled the opportunity and I look forward to the rest of the season.”
There have been no public comments from Hocutt or any other Tech administrators regarding the future of the program — whether that includes retaining Walker or opening up a nationwide search — since then.
“Obviously, a lot of things are going through my mind,” Walker said Friday. “It’s coming to an end here, and we don’t know what’s going to happen beyond this, but this could be my last game coaching at (United Spirit Arena). That’s just the reality of the situation.”
Walker, whose Red Raiders are 10-18, 3-14 in the Big 12 Conference, is hopeful that isn’t the case. The longtime assistant wants to remain the coach at Tech, wants the chance to build the program his own way.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me,” Walker said. “Would I love to be the coach going forward? Absolutely. I would love to have the opportunity on my terms to do what my vision is in all facets. All I’ve tried to do is keep it glued together. I just want my opportunity to put my stamp on the program. That’s all I’ve been asking for.”
Regardless of the outcome of the game against Texas (14-16, 6-11) — which has surged of late behind the return of point guard Myck Kabongo — Tech will finish the season in ninth place in the Big 12, which is where it was picked in the league’s preseason media poll. The Red Raiders have won two more conference games, and two more games overall, than they did last season.
Despite the struggles, Walker said he has learned plenty during the course of the season that he could use going forward as a head coach.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about tolerance,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, from being an assistant to a head coach, about decision-making and how you take on the emotional load of every single person that’s part of this program. You have to bring the energy and the enthusiasm. The program should resemble your personality.
“You just don’t know how that will all happen when you’re an assistant. Then when you take over what I took over — which is like playing against Kansas on senior night — and try to turn a frown upside down, I think some may argue that I’ve done the best I can do, and I’ve done it selflessly and to the best of my ability.”
Nurse has had dozens of coaches in his career. From high school to the Canadian junior national team. From Midland College to Tech, where he’s played for two head coaches alone. He believes Walker has what it takes to guide a program.
“He is a great coach and he’s young,” Nurse said. “He’s learning as well. It’s his first year as coach. As time progresses with more experience he gets, the sky’s the limit for him. I’ve got confidence in him.”
Tech players are as anxious to find out who will be coaching them next season. They were in a similar position six months ago, when it was unclear who would take over after Gillispie’s departure. Junior forward Jaye Crockett also waited through a transition period following his freshman year, when Pat Knight was fired and subsequently replaced by Gillispie.
“It feels like it keeps happening,” Crockett said. “We were waiting last year, doing the same thing. It’d be great for (a decision to be made), and that’s less distractions.”
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