Despite a school record 402 wins and a virtually perennial trip to the NCAA tournament each season (16 trips in all, as many as the school had in its history before Rick Barnes arrived), in the end, Rick Barnes career resume was not enough to save him from his last few annual performance evaluations.
Thus, over the weekend, the University of Texas chose to part ways with Barnes after a seventeen season run that was highlighted by one Final Four (2003) and four Big XII Coach of the Year awards.
However, one school's trash is another school's treasure, and what wasn't good enough to stay employed at one UT was most certainly good enough to get hired -- and get hired QUICKLY -- at the other UT.
So it was that Rick Barnes was hired on Tuesday as the next head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee.
For a program that's been reeling from the time they chose to fire Bruce Pearl in the wake of his lying about a barbecue that he threw at his house for some recruits, an apparent NCAA hanging offense, the hire of Barnes represents some much needed credibility. The press release announcing Barnes' hire used phrases like the future "never looking brighter" and described Barnes as "decorated" and "accomplished" and "Hall of Fame-worthy."
Perhaps more important than credibility is Barnes brings a degree of stability to aVol program that will be employing its fourth head coach in six seasons. Last season, the Vols went 16-16 under Donnie Tyndall, who was fired after one season for cause because of unethical conduct at his former post, Southern Mississippi.
Barnes' hire in Knoxville is being met with resounding cheers, at least within the athletics department, where AD Dave Hart had this to say:
"Rick Barnes is an elite basketball coach in every respect," Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart said. "Rick brings an extremely impressive track record of excellence, as well as much-needed stability, to our men's basketball program. This is an exciting day for our Tennessee family."
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The Longhorns came into the 2014-2015 season with big expectations, but were never able to get untracked and eventually struggled to gain entry into the NCAA tournament, sneaking with an 11 seed, and bowing out in their first game against 6-seed Butler. Their search for the next head coach is underway, and reports on Monday centered around VCU's Shaka Smart.
Perhaps the most significant upshot of the Barnes hire in Knoxville is its symbolic relevance. At a school that has generally hired stars from mid-major programs as their head coach (Buzz Peterson, Pearl, Tyndall, Martin), Barnes represents an expensive departure from that strategy, a growing trend in an SEC that is flush with TV money.
Auburn brought Pearl back into the SEC fold last offseason, MIssissippi State hired former UCLA head coach Ben Howland, and Alabama is reportedly ready to throw $3 million a year at candidates like Wichita State's Gregg Marshall after the firing of Anthony Grant. It's quite clear that John Calipari's setting a Saban-like standard on the basketball side has upped the ante for all of the schools in the SEC.