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.

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.