- As a Tennessee fan, this would be devastating. I’m not sure I can overstate how much turmoil the Tennessee program was in following Donnie Tyndall. Barnes came in and, with very few heralded recruits, took the program to one of its best seasons in history within four years.
- At the same time, there are some real pluses at UCLA. It’s a perfect location with a storied history and significant resources for College Basketball. Additionally, at a time where the SEC is getting tougher and tougher, the PAC-12 is easily the most winnable major conference in College Basketball.
- While those are real pluses for any program, it is a little difficult to see why they would mean as much to Rick Barnes as some other coaches. He’s a perfect fit in Knoxville, TN, and it’s hard to see how he would mesh with UCLA’s culture.
- That said, if Rick Barnes doesn’t see himself finishing his career at Tennessee, now would be the time to look. There were reports he wasn’t happy with his assistant’s salaries after he paid one of them out of his own pocket. Additionally, he’s losing Rob Lanier from his staff and most likely 4 starters off the court. Next year, even with Barnes, is likely a rebuilding year. If he doesn’t want to go through that, UCLA is about as good as it gets.
- This will be cliché, but if Barnes does leave, Fulmer should call Bruce Pearl. Pearl may very well have no interest in coming back, but it’s difficult to imagine another coach of his caliber having potentially even the slightest interest in the job. If Fulmer wants to fish among current major conference coaches, Mick Cronin, Mark Turgeon, and Kevin Willard strike me as worth contacting. Shaka Smart might be a high-risk/high-reward option. Among mid-majors, I would call Gregg Marshall, Rick Byrd, Casey Alexander, Steve Forbes, and John Brannen.
- Lastly, if Rick Barnes does leave, Tennessee fans will owe him a debt of gratitude. This will not be a Lane Kiffin situation where a young, unproven coach Tennessee bet heavily on leaves after one year on the most classless terms possible. In the midst of one of the worst periods in Tennessee Athletics in many years, Barnes’ program brought joy to Vol Nation that had not been seen in a long time. He put together one of the best teams in Tennessee Mens Basketball history this season both on and off the court. Where the program stands now compared to where it was when Barnes came would be difficult to quantify. It would hurt if the Vols lost Rick Barnes, but even if he does leave, it should nonetheless be with the esteem of Vols fans for being one of the few bright spots for Tennessee Athletics this decade.