Barbee Wants to End "Disconnect" for AU Hoops

Comments from Auburn's new head basketball coach, Tony Barbee, plus notes on his hiring are featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Speaking in Auburn's still unfinished but nearing completion basketball facility following his press conference on Thursday evening, the university's new head hoops coach says one of his primary jobs will be to excite Tiger fans about their program.

"Obviously, winning is always the answer, but it is more than that," Tony Barbee says. "There is a unique tradition and history here with Auburn basketball. You look at some of the great teams here and some of the great players and there has been a disconnect. My job is to rekindle that love affair.

"How you do that is I have to be a presence in this community, I have to be a presence in this state and I have to be a presence throughout the Southeast and I have to be a presence with the students," he says. "They have got to understand that we are in this together.

"The fans have to understand this," he adds. "It isn't about me. It is about their program, our program. My job is to rekindle that love affair and that starts with me being present and me being in the community and being active."

Barbee says he is really excited about the new arena and support facilities like a practice arena, but notes that isn't what prompted him to accept the Auburn job.

"It's not about the bricks and mortar," he says. "There have been a lot of special people who have come through Auburn University. Obviously, this place adds a lot to that tradition and history, but Auburn's basketball has never been about bricks and mortar.

"This is a first class arena," he notes. "It is one of the nicest I have ever been in. It is going to be one of the nicest not only in the SEC, but in the country and that gives us a lot of advantages."

The new coach promises fans that he will be aggressive on the recruiting front going after the top prospects in the state, the region and wherever he needs to go to give Auburn fans the type of exciting team they want to watch.

He says one of his first jobs is to get to know the current Auburn players, who he met for the first time on Thursday afternoon. "I think the meeting went great," the coach says. He says next week he will have one-on-one meetings with each player.

Barbee notes that he is excited about being the first African American head basketball coach at Auburn. "It is similar to the significance of me being the first African American (head basketball) coach at UTEP with the Glory Road tradition and the background," he says.

"I am honored, and privileged and humbled to be the first African American (head) coach here at Auburn," he adds. "I know what it means to the community, but at the end of the day it is about the success that we are going to have in this community and on the court and in the classroom."

Athletic Director Jay Jacobs (left) presents Barbee an Auburn jersey.

Tony Barbee Notes: Barbee did his job interview with Auburn on Tuesday in Atlanta. Thursday was his first time to be in Auburn....Athletic Director Jay Jacobs says he didn't expect to have the search for Jeff Lebo's successor finished so quickly. He notes that he originally thought it might take until after the NCAA Final Four to find his man, but says he was so impressed with his interview with Barbee he decided the former UTEP coach was the right man for the job...Barbee has agreed to a six-year deal with Auburn worth $1.5 million annually with the opportunity to increase that total with performance bonuses...Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan points out that he knows Barbee from being recruited by the coach and says he is excited about Barbee's arrival. The coach says the feeling is mutual about Sullivan and he is "excited to rekindle the relationship we once had because I think he will be a great fit on how I do things."...Barbee, who was coached and mentored by Kentucky coach John Calipari, gave Barbee advice that he should "run" to Auburn after being offered the job. He notes that he got a phone call from Calipari on Thursday to talk about his new job even though Kentucky was preparing for an NCAA Sweet 16 game...Calipari says his goal is to build a program that will be good enough to challenge the Wildcats for the SEC Championship. He points out that he has known Calipari since he was 14 years old when Calipari coached him at the Five Star Basketball Camp.

Sophomore forward Kenny Gabriel says that the thing that got his attention the most from the players' meeting with the coach today is that Barbee told them he had an open door policy 24/7 at his home to come see him or call him whenever needed...Gabriel says it was hard on the players being in limbo after Jeff Lebo was fired, but says his early take is the players like Barbee. Gabriel, who was a sophomore last season, says he has no doubt that he is fired up about the new arena. He thinks it is going to provide a great homecourt for the Tigers. Sophomore guard Frankie Sullivan says what he liked from the team meeting with the new coach is that Barbee talked about having fun, playing aggressive and working hard. Sullivan says that is the way he enjoys playing basketball...Former Auburn star John Mengelt, AU basketball administrator Bernard Hill and AD Jacobs did the interviews with the coaching candidates. Former coach Eddie Fogler was used a consultant on suggestions on who the best coaches in the country are and Jacobs says that Fogler was "a great help to us." Jacobs says the Tigers "had a lot of great candidates."...Jacobs says that he talked former Tiger star Charles Barkley before and during the search process and he was supportive and "most helpful." Jacobs says Barkley knows a lot of basketball.

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