A Few Thoughts on Rick Barnes’ Decision to Stay at Tennessee

Per Chris Low at ESPN and many others, Rick Barnes has decided to remain at Tennessee following a counteroffer from the Volunteers.

  • Much credit to the administration, including Interim University President Randy Boyd and Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer for getting this deal done. I have been mostly critical of Fulmer for letting the situation get to this point, but he deserves major kudos for keeping Barnes home.
  • I’m not sure how possible it is to overstate how dire a state the program was in when Donnie Tyndall was fired and Tennessee was looking for its third coach in three years. What Rick Barnes has accomplished is remarkable, and it’s good to see him rewarded for it.
  • It will be interesting to see the terms of the contract. I’m sure Barnes will receive a much-deserved raise, but I’m hoping he will get a bigger Assistant pool as well so he can bring in whoever he wants to fill out his staff. Hopefully this contract will ensure Rick Barnes retires at Tennessee.
  • I won’t blame him in the least if he goes Pro, but it will be interesting to see how Barnes staying impacts Grant Williams’ decision making. I’m assuming he would have certainly gone Pro if Barnes left, so maybe he will at least think about staying with Barnes still here.
  • As rough a shape as UCLA is in right now, it is still one of the nations top College Basketball programs. That Rick Barnes turned them down to stay at Tennessee shows just how far the program has come.
  • Finally, I saw some fans throughout the process state something to the affect of they wouldn’t feel the same way about Barnes again even if he came back. They shouldn’t feel this way. Barnes is universally respected by his peers as one of the top Coaches in the nation. Someone was bound to call at some point. Now that Barnes has hopefully worked out his issues with the Athletics Department and decided to stay put, it should reinforce his commitment to the University. I’m looking forward to rooting to this Rick Barnes-led Basketball team for years to come.
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As UCLA tries to lure Rick Barnes, issues in the Tennessee Athletics Department emerge.

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One of the immediate questions to emerge from reports Rick Barnes was a finalist for the UCLA job was “Why would Rick Barnes want to take over UCLA?”.  It’s a fair question.  Barnes at his age isn’t in a position to likely reap the fruit of another rebuilding project.  His ethos seems more Knoxville, Tennessee than Los Angeles, California.  He’s close to his hometown of Hickory, North Carolina, and any compensation UCLA offered would have a difficult time exceeding Tennessee’s package when accounting for tax structure and cost-of-living.

This led to immediate speculation that maybe things were not as well as they seemed in the Tennessee Athletics Department.  Compounded with some recent eyebrow raising remarks from Admiral Schofield, the departure of top Assistant Rob Lanier, and Jordan Bone’s almost eminent entry into the NBA draft, it seems fair to ask what issues there might be behind the scenes.

Most speculation has related to the departure of Lanier.  While Rick Barnes takes a no-drama approach to his job, he has been very insistent on ensuring his assistant coaches receive the compensation he feels they deserve.  He was most notably reported for a very minor NCAA infraction two years ago for paying Assistant Desmond Oliver out-of-pocket because he felt that he wasn’t compensated adequately by then-AD Dave Hart.  While that was one issue John Currie actually fixed, the issue of Assistant pay may have came up again with Lanier creating vacancy.  Rumors have also floated that there will be at least one more vacancy on the assistant staff before the off-season ends.

If Barnes felt that his Assistant pool wasn’t what he needed to build the staff he sought, it would be the most Rick Barnes reason ever to engage with another position.  He is clearly very loyal to those around him, and understands the importance of a deep staff.  Beyond this, there have also been reports that he felt the Athletics Department did not respect the Mens Basketball program enough.  If this is true, that is a massive error by the Athletics Department.  The Mens Basketball program has been one of the few bright spots at Tennessee the past two years.  This past season produced one of the best Mens Basketball teams in program history.  If the Administration did not appreciate that, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Ultimately, it sounds like Barnes will not make his decision based on money.  While UCLA is in disarray, it certainly still has appeal.  While Tennessee is a good job, UCLA has a history, prestige, resources, and recruiting advantages that the Volunteers simply cannot compete with.  While Phillip Fulmer should still offer Barnes a raise, a larger Assistant pool, and anything else he believes will keep him in Knoxville, it will be a major setback for him if Barnes leaves.  Fulmer has placed a very large bet in his efforts and resources on Jeremy Pruitt and a very young Football team that will take a long team to reach the upper echelon of the sport.  If the Volunteers do not substantially improve from 5-7 this season and it turns out that Barnes feeling that what may have been the best Men’s Basketball team in school history was short-changed leads him to walk, Fulmer will feel the heat this time next year.  While Fulmer has contributed to Tennessee Athletics in a way very few living people have, he will rightfully have to answer for these issues should Barnes decide to step away.

A Few Thoughts on the Rick Barnes to UCLA rumors.

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  • 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.

UCLA is looking for a Basketball Coach. Here is who they need to call before Mick Cronin.

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UCLA Basketball received significant ridicule when it came out their coaching search was down to Jaime Dixon and Mick Cronin.  UCLA is one of the iconic programs in the sport, and while it’s been a rough decade, they are still conservatively a top-20 job in College Basketball.  Between their history, their location in Los Angeles, and a very down Pac-12 conference, UCLA should be able to attract a major name in the sport.  Dixon is probably a UCLA-caliber coach, but his buyout at TCU reportedly dissuaded them from going that direction.

Mick Cronin is a good coach for Cincinnati, but his record doesn’t really meet UCLA standards and it’s difficult to see him being able to fully take advantage of all the benefits and resources that come with the UCLA brand and program.  If UCLA is serious about getting back into the top echelon of College Basketball on a year-to-year basis, they need to make these six phone calls (if they haven’t already) before they settle for Mick Cronin.  These are roughly in the order I would make them, though any of these names would be a good hire for the Bruins.

  1. Mark Few (Gonzaga)

Mark Few has had his share of opportunities to leave Gonzaga for bigger programs over the years, but UCLA should still go all out to land him if he has even the slightest interest in the job.  What Few has done at Gonzaga has been nothing short of astounding, and it’s conceivable he might be more willing to listen to UCLA than other big name schools.  The comparison that comes to mind is Chris Peterson leaving Boise State Football after receiving many offers to go to Washington, a big school with resources that still kept him on the same side of the country.  If UCLA offers Few a significant raise, much better facilities and amenities to pitch recruits on, and the keys to one of the preeminent programs in College Basketball, would that be enough to lure him.  UCLA should at least give it a try.

  1. Chris Beard (Texas Tech)

Chris Beard’s name has come up a lot with this job.  He has succeeded at every stop he’s made, and Texas Tech isn’t exactly an easy place to win.  There are rumors he may be waiting on the Texas job to open if Shaka Smart is gone next year, and Texas is certainly a great job.  If you’re UCLA though, you need to at least make a serious pitch to Beard after the Final Four.  Los Angeles should be an easier place to win than Lubbock, TX, so the appeal should be there if Beard is ready to move up after two years.

  1. Chris Mack (Louisville)

This one has the obvious caveat of Mack’s buyout possibly being prohibitive, though maybe not quite as much as Jaime Dixon’s $8 Million Buyout at TCU.  Chris Mack may also not be especially interested after just one season at Louisville.  That said, since Mack took the Louisville job, the program’s standing with the NCAA has managed to somehow get worse.  Mack knew it would be an uphill battle, but does one of the best coaches in College Basketball want to deal with the ramifications of a major scandal that predates him?  Maybe he’s willing to deal with it to stay with one of the few programs that rivals UCLA, or maybe his buyout is too prohibitive.  Still, if you’re UCLA, you should at least explore this option in case Mack is ready to jump before more sanctions hit.  Whatever amount of money it would take to make this happen, it’s hard to argue it wouldn’t be worth it for UCLA.

  1. Mark Turgeon (Maryland)

These last 3 names may not have the same luster as the first 3, but these are still excellent coaches who have consistently met high standards at programs where it’s not always easy to put together consistently great Basketball seasons.  Mark Turgeon has done an excellent job now at two Power 5 schools (Texas A&M, Maryland).  His teams regularly over-perform.  Maryland is also in a difficult Big Ten, in a position where it may be difficult to breakthrough to the next level (which is already starting to frustrate fans).  If you’re Turgeon, do you take a look at a program with the resources of UCLA in a very down Pac-12 and find it tempting to jump?  If so, he has a very reasonable buyout in the six-figures.  UCLA should at least inquire to gauge interest.

  1. Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)

For several years, Marshall was at the top of the wish list for every major program with an opening.  Since Wichita State experienced a little less tournament success and moved up to the AAC, Marshall’s name has lost some of its national luster.  None of the things that make Marshall an excellent coach have disappeared, though.  He still took a fairly run-of-the-mill mid-major that started to taste success and turned them into a year-to-year contender to make the NCAA tournament and do damage once there.  If he can experience the success he’s had in his career at Winthrop and Wichita State, the possibilities for what he could accomplish at UCLA are extraordinary.  UCLA should be intrigued and reach out.

  1. Lon Kruger (Oklahoma)

Kruger’s biggest knock is his age (66).  Still, it’s hard to deny that he is one impressive coach and recruiter.  He has experienced an impressive amount of success at Oklahoma, which is not particularly a Basketball school.  Even if he was only at UCLA 5-10 years, based on his record at Oklahoma, I believe he could easily make the Tournament’s second weekend year-to-year at that program and reach at least one Final Four.  If you’re a UCLA administrator, can you honestly say you can expect that from Mick Cronin based on his record?  And if you’re Kruger, wouldn’t you find a final act in your career of bringing success back to a legendary program and restoring it to prominence satisfying?  Even if Kruger wouldn’t be at UCLA as long as some other names, he would be in a position to succeed and leave the program in better shape the next time UCLA hires a coach.

Jason Witten, VFL, Returns to the Dallas Cowboys

Jason Witten

Jason Witten is perhaps my favorite VFL (Vol for Life, for the unacquainted).  Witten is an all around great guy who is tough as nails, is productive on the field, and plays the game the right way.  A lot of people were caught off-guard when the Cowboys made an announcement this afternoon:

I don’t think anyone would be offended if I say here Witten was just not working out with MNF.  I think this is a win for everyone, and I hope it works out.  For Witten, he evidently still has a desire to play.  The Cowboys are an exciting young team that have the potential to do better, and Witten can help them out.  He’s a great veteran presence, and this has the potential to be the best team he’s ever been a part of.

For the Cowboys, they needed more targets for Dak Prescott.  Their passing game was a mess before acquiring Amari Cooper last year.  Their offense was still missing a middle of the field, mid-range guy, though.  You can hardly ask for a better guy to get open and move the ball 10-15 yards downfield than Jason Witten.  Witten helps complete this offense and takes pressure off Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper for making the Dallas offense work.

For Monday Night Football, this is a chance at a fresh start.  They have an opportunity to look at a variety of different options and see what works best.  My advice would be to either (a) offer the Analyst role to Kurt Warner, who has done well in the role on NFL Network when given the chance, or (b) simply move Booger McFarland to the booth, since he seemed to do well last year.  Either of those would be good option.

I believe Jason Witten will come back refreshed and ready to help the Cowboys.  Under wildly different circumstances, think about what a season off from Football did for Adrian Peterson several years ago.  After being suspended for all but one game of the 2014 season, he came back in 2015 and was first-team all-pro.  While Jason Witten is not a RB, he’s nonetheless a very physical player who has taken his share of contact.  A year off is not necessarily a bad thing for him, and he’ll come back in time to benefit a Dallas team that needs him to get back to the next level.  Welcome back, Jason Witten, and I’ll be rooting for the Cowboys to win the NFC this year.

Bryce Harper Signs with the Phillies

After a long, drawn out off-season, Bryce Harper has finally signed.  It’s a doozy of a deal at 13 years, $330 million total.  After much speculation that the Dodgers were on their heels ready to pounce, it turns out the Phillies were able to get a deal done.

I’m split on how to feel about this as a Braves fan.  Bryce Harper is definitely a very good player, and the Phillies have improved more than any team in Baseball this season.  I was hoping Harper would go out to the West Coast or the AL to avoid him.  While I’m not as down on Alex Anthopoulos as some are, I’m a little annoyed that the Braves haven’t done more after dramatically increasing revenue in consecutive years and being told we would be able to shop in any aisle this off-season.  The one big splash they made was at what I would assess as their 4th biggest position of need entering the off-season (OF, Starting P, and Relief P rank higher than 3B).  While there’s still a chance the Braves go out and get Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel, it appears the Braves still let themselves get outgunned by every both the Phillies and Mets when there was absolutely no reason to let that happen as reigning Division Champions.

On the other hand, it’s important to keep things in perspective.  While it’s only 1 year, a healthy Josh Donaldson is probably going to play better than Bryce Harper.  And while it’s only a 1 year deal, a 1 year deal is better than a 13 year deal.  The Phillies are going to be around half-way through this deal just as Acuna, Albies, Swanson, and whichever young Pitchers pan out are hitting their prime.  Most of these long-term deals have gone sour for the teams signing them well before the end of the contract, and I doubt this is an exception.  While the Phillies are big-market spenders, this contract will most likely limit their options for building their roster going forward.  Those are all hopeful points for Braves fans.

Harper is presumably going to be a short-term boon to the Phillies.  That roster is stacked and will be difficult to compete with.  At the same time, the Braves will still be able to compete, and having the Phillies stuck with this contract for years to come could eventually be helpful.  That said, it would still be prudent for the Braves to shore up their Pitching depth before the season starts in order to be in a position to improve on their impressive season last year and make a deeper run in October.

Ole Miss Basketball is getting Unnecessary Criticism

While kneeling has become somewhat prominent in Professional leagues, it has mostly stayed out of College Sports. One notable exception occurred today. Several members of Ole Miss’ Men’s Basketball team kneeled during the anthem.

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A lot of people have been ignoring the context. Basically, the KKK and several neo-Confederate groups scheduled a protest for today. Part of this occurred on the campus of Ole Miss. Administration at Ole Miss had little in the way of the response. It essentially amounted to “avoid them”. Telling African-American students that they shouldn’t move freely on their own campus that they are paying to attend is not a comprehensive response.

In general, I think kneeling as a response to injustice is perfectly appropriate, whether it’s in regards to police brutality or neo-Confederate rallys in Mississippi. But specifically examining the response to today’s incident, the contrast between the response to the Neo-Confederates and the response to Ole Miss Basketball is stark. Lots of the response was that people were going to boycott Ole Miss. I don’t remember the response being that sharp to the NFL following its lax penalties for Domestic Violence. Clay Travis (aka Walmart Skip Bayless) said that the SEC has a big problem now. Did the SEC not have a big problem with a Neo-Confederate rally taking place on the campus of one of its member institutions?

What people choose to deem problematic or react to is extremely revealing. Even if you have problems with kneeling in general, it’s easy to understand why these young men at Ole Miss would choose to respond to these specific circumstances. We should have empathy for them and seek to create an environment free of White Supremacy, not melt down whenever African-Americans choose to make a statement about the world as it is today.