The new message out of Texas is clear: longtime coaches who have great success but level off are expendable.
Mack Brown learned that. Now Rick Barnes has learned it, too.
Multiple media reports say that Barnes has been fired as the basketball coach of the Longhorns, after 17 seasons. Barnes took Texas to just its third Final Four in 2003, went to the NCAA tournament 16 times and won 69 percent of his games. But he also had talent-laden teams that underachieved over the last seven seasons.
Brown can relate. His glorious football tenure ended 15 months ago due to declining returns during his final four seasons, after so many great years. There is ample reason to believe that decision was made above the head of new athletic director Steve Patterson, who was merely the messenger. But the change also made it evident that former AD DeLoss Dodds was no longer around to maintain a comfortable status quo.
Barnes is the latest mainstay overboard in the Texas transition.
Barnes gradually became known as a great recruiter whose teams played well below their talent level. With 10 first-round draft picks between 2000-11, more than one Final Four doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Especially when that list of draft picks includes NBA All-Stars like Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge.
This year’s Texas team was the final example of the sum not playing up to its parts. Freshman Myles Turner is likely to be Barnes’ last first-round Longhorn draftee, but he and his teammates floundered through a 2014 season that included a losing record in the Big 12; a blown 10-point lead in the final 3:35 in the Big 12 tournament against Iowa State; and a round-of-64 NCAA tournament loss to Butler.
And that was that. Except it wasn’t.
One other thing has become clear at the New Texas: arriving at these terminations is a laborious and messy process. It took six days after Brown’s regular-season finale to force his resignation, and it took nine days to part ways with Barnes.
That indicates there are a lot of cooks in the burnt-orange kitchen. Something for the next basketball coach to keep in mind.
Speaking of him: the list could and likely will start with Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. He’s been choosy and driven some hard bargains that ultimately have led to him staying at Wichita for eight seasons, and it’s worked out splendidly for him – his record over the last three years is 95-15, with one Final Four and one undefeated regular season.
But this is the kind of job the Wichita State coach doesn’t turn down. There is no reason why the right coach shouldn’t turn Texas into a perennial top 10 program – and get rich(er) in the process.
Sources told Yahoo Sports that Marshall already had signaled Alabama not to waste its energy putting together a whopper offer for his services, because he had his eyes on Texas. So this conceivably could be a short courtship – if anything can get done simply in Austin.
(At Alabama, the search to replace Anthony Grant could be getting dicey. Marshall is off the table and VCU coach Shaka Smart is extremely unlikely to replace his buddy Grant. Archie Miller can afford to stay at Dayton and wait for the right time and place – and Alabama seems like neither. Latest name in the mix in Tuscaloosa is Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, who may be parlaying his father’s connection to former Alabama coach C.M. Newton, who certainly has the ear of decision makers at ‘Bama.)
If Marshall isn’t the guy at Texas, Smart might be. Smart has been choosy, too, staying six seasons at the school he improbably took to the 2011 Final Four. He’s won at least 26 games every season and it’s very easy to conceive of Smart eventually cutting down Final Four nets in the right circumstance.
Should the Texas search fail to land either Marshall or Smart, Xavier’s Chris Mack merits consideration. Smart and Marshall have a combined three Sweet 16 appearances – same as Mack has all by himself. The only thing missing from his résumé is a Final Four.
Regardless, Texas is going to get a great coach. A better coach than the one it had – certainly better than the one it had the last seven seasons.