Mark Adams is down in a stance — knees bent, butt down in his khakis, left arm extended. The new Texas Tech coach isn’t showing how spry he is at his age. Nope, he’s rocking a defensive stance in the hallway just outside his office to demonstrate the principles of his side defense.
“You put your nose on the ball,” Adams says as he positions himself in front of his guest and angles his feet toward the pretend sideline. No one is more qualified to present this technique, because it’s his innovation. It’s not often anyone invents something new in this game anymore, but four years ago, after a summer spent studying what made Bill Self and Lon Kruger’s offenses so good and how they could be slowed, it hit Adams that it was all about the angles. He created the antidote in his head, abandoning the keep-the-ball-in-front mentality that is at the heart of most successful defenses.
He explains how it’s almost impossible to keep a ballhandler in front of you when he can go either direction. That kind of defense is a reaction. Adams wanted to dictate the terms to the offense, and he had to reprogram his players that it’s OK to give your man a step if you’re directing him where you want him to go, which is toward the baseline and into help.
His secret weapon at accomplishing this feat is just behind the mythical ballhandler through the doorway to his office, where a bookshelf sits full of all the favorite candies of his players. (Actually not all the candy is there. If you’re looking for the watermelon Sour Patch Kids, junior wing Kevin McCullar keeps those under Adams’ desk.) The candy is there to lure the players in and keep them around a bit, so they’ll watch some film with him and learn.
This is his happy place. Adams loves to teach, and convincing players to think the game different is one of his strengths. Heck, he’s changed how the way many coaches see the game. His ideas have spread throughout college hoops — Baylor just won a national championship playing his defense, proving the success can be mimicked. But it does pay to have the creator. Since he installed his side defense four years ago, the Red Raiders have an average finish in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency of eighth, which is better than any program in college hoops over that timespan.
Yet even with those credentials, Adams was not the shoo-in hire when Chris Beard broke the hearts of Tech fans on April 1, leaving to become the head coach at rival Texas. On that day, Adams was the first one in the program to learn of Beard’s plan, because Beard called him early that morning, inviting him over to his house. Beard was well aware of Adams’ value. He informed him he was taking the Texas job, and he wanted Adams to come with him. There would be a team meeting 45 minutes later, and then they’d board a plane at 1 p.m. Adams felt a strong loyalty to Beard. Beard gave him a lifeline in 2015 when Adams was in a non-coaching role at Texas Tech, and he brought him along to Arkansas Little Rock to be his assistant and run his defense. But Adams didn’t commit to the initial invitation to go to Austin, and after the team meeting, Beard immediately doubled back, pulling him aside to ask him again if he’d join him on the plane.