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.

Image result for rick barnes

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.

Image result for rick barnes

  • 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.

The Vols Are Facing an Onslaught of Doubt. Bring it on.

It’s been an excellent season for the Tennessee Volunteers. They beat Gonzaga in what was practically a road game. They defeated Louisville on a neutral court. They won 19 consecutive games, mostly in the SEC. Finally, they beat Alabama and swept Florida. They more than earned their #1 ranking for as long as they held it.

Unfortunately, the streak came to an end last night at Kentucky. We can be honest: It was an off-night for the Vols. They didn’t play physical, tool bad shots, and let UK get too many good shots. That said, Kentucky is a top-5 team. They played their best game of the year, and will be difficult to beat even for a team not having an off-night. They did get some help from the Rupperees, but the Vols would have most likely lost even without that.

With one bad night, that was enough for some in the national media to bring out the doubt. The same voices that insisted a program like Tennessee should be honored that since-fired Greg Schiano would stoop so low as to be the Head Coach are bow insisting Tennessee is a good team masquerading as a great team. All based off of one off night against a top-5 team.

Lets be realistic: No one expected Tennessee would go 18-0 in SEC play. Anyone who has paid attention to this Tennessee team, though, should know that they are a great team. They are one of the best teams in the country this season, and have a chance to be an all-time great team. They are still very likely to repeat as SEC champions, and are built to go deep in March. One bad night at Rupp doesn’t erase any of that.

For some though, Tennessee will never be good enough to receive recognition as anything more than a fluke. The national media didn’t turn off the Duke bandwagon when they lost at unranked Syracuse. They recognized it was an off night that didn’t work out. That’s what Tennessee has Saturday, and everyone has turned on them.

Fortunately, though, this is a Tennessee team that is built on overcoming doubt. This is a squad full of scrappy players that weren’t heavily recruited. This is a team with a coach who was fired less than 5 years ago and who went through significant criticism for years before that. This is a team that is used to proving people wrong. All of the hate coming from the national media will make it that much sweeter when the Vols repeat as SEC champions and go deep in the NCAA tournament. Bring it on.

Video Wednesday

I don’t know if I’ll do this every week or not, but I had several things I came across recently worth sharing, so here they are:

The Rainbow Video from Kacey Musgraves

(via John Crist and Trey Kennedy, who are must-follows).

Braves Pitchers + Catchers report Friday! Here’s some of the highlights from last season.

Not an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fan, but this sums up a lot of problems in our politics today pretty well.

And finally, the Tennessee Volunteers are still the #1 Mens Basketball team in the Country.

Tennessee is better than Duke. The NCAA Mock Selection Committee Gets it Wrong.

There is a myth going around that Tennessee is worse than Duke, and I tend to think it’s based on little but national media and reputation.

Tennessee has the better results so far: Both teams have wins over 2 of the other teams on this list.  Duke lost to the one common opponent, though (Gonzaga), while the Vols won.  Additionally, Duke has a very underwhelming loss to Syracuse.  The Vols’ only loss has been to a #2 at the time Kansas team that is on this list at #10.

Tennessee is the more complete team: Look at these Rosters (Duke and Tennessee, per ESPN):

Duke Stats

Vols Stats

Duke is top-heavy, but doesn’t have the starting 5 or bench depth of the Vols.  The Vols are a complete team that can beat you a variety of ways.  If Duke runs into a team where their top players are contained or having a bad day, it’s going to be an issue.

There really isn’t a good, legitimate reason to put the Devils ahead of the Vols at this point.  Now #BeatFlorida.