- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - UNLV is turning to Chris Beard to run its men’s basketball program.

Coming off his first season as a Division I coach, Beard is leaving Little Rock to become the next head coach at UNLV, both schools announced on Monday.

The move comes three days after Mick Cronin opted to stay at Cincinnati after meeting with UNLV officials. UNLV also spoke to New Mexico State’s Marvin Menzies.

“Chris is a high-character coach and proven winner with a clear vision for building a successful program on the court and in the classroom at UNLV,” UNLV President Len Jessup said. “He is one of the rising head coaches in the sport, and we’re confident he’s the right person to lead our program and continue the proud, winning tradition of Runnin’ Rebel basketball.”

Beard replaces Dave Rice, who was fired in January. Todd Simon, who served as the Rebels’ interim coach to close out the season, recently became the head coach at Southern Utah.

The 42-year-old Beard led the Trojans to a school- and Sun Belt Conference-record 30 wins and the program’s fifth NCAA Tournament bid after they went 13-18 in 2014-15. Little Rock upset No. 5 seed Purdue as a 12th seed in the opening round for its first NCAA Tournament win in three decades.

The Trojans started the season with 10 straight wins, another conference record, and went undefeated at home for the first time since 1981-82.

Beard previously worked as an assistant coach at Texas and Texas Tech before landing the job at Little Rock. He also served as a head coach at two junior colleges, two Division II schools and a semipro team.

“We are appreciative of Coach Beard and his team’s incredible list of accomplishments this season,” Little Rock director of athletics Chasse Conque said in a statement. “While Chris spent just one season in Little Rock, our program is better for his service to the University. We wish Coach Beard nothing but the best at Nevada-Las Vegas.”

He takes over a UNLV program still trying to regain its status as one of the nation’s elite programs.

Rice led the Runnin’ Rebels to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances his first two seasons, but UNLV missed the bracket the past three seasons despite bringing in some of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

Rice was fired after UNLV opened Mountain West Conference play with three straight losses.

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