When reporters asked Rick Barnes if he would coach again after Texas fired him on Sunday, he tellingly responded, "Yeah, probably quicker than you think."
Turns out Barnes wasn't kidding.
[DraftKings: Play Fantasy College Basketball – Draft your team today!]
Tennessee will introduce Rick Barnes as its next coach at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, according to multiple reports. Barnes will replace Donnie Tyndall, who was fired Friday after just one season in Knoxville amid an NCAA investigation into his previous two-year tenure at Southern Mississippi.
The hiring of Barnes is further proof that SEC schools are adhering to conference commissioner Mike Slive's pleas to place a greater emphasis on basketball. The league is unlikely to be Kentucky, Florida and everyone else for very much longer given some of the coaches recently brought in to compete with John Calipari and Billy Donovan.
Last spring, Auburn hired Bruce Pearl, who took Tennessee to six straight NCAA tournaments from 2006-11. Earlier this month, Mississippi State landed Ben Howland, a master rebuilder who transformed Pittsburgh into a top 20 team and took UCLA to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08. Alabama is also in hot pursuit of Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall and reportedly is willing to spend top dollar for a well-known coach even if it can't get him.
Barnes can provide a similar credibility boost to Tennessee despite a track record of underachievement late in his Texas tenure.
On one hand, the Longhorns were unable to land enough premier in-state talent the past few seasons and neither won a share of the Big 12 title nor advanced beyond the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament the past seven years. On the other hand, Barnes took Texas to a Final Four in 2003, shared the Big 12 title with Kansas in 2006 and 2008 and accomplished enough even in his underachieving seasons to satisfy most Tennessee basketball fans.
Most critical for Tennessee is that Barnes should provide much-needed stability for a program that will have its fourth coach in six years next season.
Pearl's lies to NCAA investigators led Tennessee to fire him. Cuonzo Martin bailed for Cal after three seasons because the Tennessee fan base never embraced him the way it did Pearl. Tyndall showed promise in his one season before NCAA issues ended his tenure early.
Now it's Barnes' turn, and he'll have a challenge on his hands initially because all the coaching uncertainty has hampered Tennessee's recruiting. Senior standout Josh Richardson will graduate from a 16-16 team this spring, but juniors Armani and Kevin Punter and sophomore Robert Hubbs III could be back to provide leadership next season.
- - - - - - -