Barnes delivers credibility

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The hiring of Rick Barnes may not give Tennessee’s basketball program instant success but it certainly provides instant credibility.

He is the biggest “name” hired by Tennessee since Johnny Majors came marching home in 1977 off a national championship at Pitt. Without question, the 60-year-old Barnes is the biggest name to join the Vol basketball program ever. Ray Mears came to Knoxville from tiny Wittenburg and Bruce Pearl toiled at Wisconsin-Milwaukee before making his way to The Hill. Kevin O’Neill had a Sweet 16 run at Marquette before assuming the Vol reins in 1994 but had no sustained success.

Conversely, Barnes is all about sustained success. At 604-314, he is one of only 90 college men’s coaches with 600 wins. He went 20-10 in 1987-88 at George Mason, followed by 108-76 at Providence, 74-48 at Clemson, then 402-180 at Texas. Four times during his stint with the Longhorns he was voted Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year. Ironically, the most recent COY honor arrived shortly before he was terminated last weekend for refusing to fire assistants.

In 28 years as a head coach Barnes has earned 22 NCAA Tournament bids, with 16 of them coming during his 17-year stint at Texas. He is 20-20 in NCAA Tournament competition, including an 18-14 mark with the Longhorns. Barnes has posted just one losing season in his career — a 16-18 mark in 2012-13. He bounced back a year later to go 24-11, with two of the wins coming in the NCAA Tournament.

Vol athletics director Dave Hart called Barnes “an elite coach” in introducing the program’s new face to boosters and media Tuesday afternoon. Hart added that Barnes’ six-year contract calling for $2.25 million annual salary “says who he is first of all … one of the most successful coaches in the game of college basketball. It also speaks to our commitment as an institution.”

Although the firing of Donnie Tyndall and the hiring of Barnes occurred in a span of just five days, Tennessee found time to enlist a search firm, Collegiate Sports Associates. Upon learning that Texas was firing Barnes, Hart told CSA president Todd Turner that if Barnes “was interested in our job, he would immediately become the target of our search.”

Once the interest was reciprocated, Hart spoke with Barnes by phone on Saturday, then flew to Austin on Sunday. Barnes returned to Knoxville with Hart, and the two began negotiating. To his credit, Barnes sought assurances of funding for his assistants before seeking a contract for himself. He and Hart ultimately reached agreement Tuesday morning, then signed a memorandum of understanding.

Interestingly enough, this was the second time Barnes interviewed with Hart and the second time he interviewed for a Vol vacancy. Then serving as Associate AD at East Carolina, Hart interviewed Barnes in the mid-1980s but did not offer him the job. Tennessee athletics director Doug Dickey contacted Barnes at the 1989 Final Four in Seattle shortly after Vol coach Don DeVoe was canned. Barnes, who left George Mason after one season to take the reins at Providence a year earlier, chose not to change jobs for the second time in two years. Spurned by Barnes, Dickey wound up hiring Wade Houston. One can only wonder how different the past 26 years of Big Orange basketball might have been had Dickey hired Barnes in ’89 instead of Houston.

Having coached at Clemson and Texas, Barnes was asked if he has any reservations about working for yet another “football school.” His answer was classic:

“I also coached at Providence College, which didn’t have football,” he quipped. “I promise you: You want football. There’s nothing like football weekends (to impress visiting recruits).”

Given that two of Tennessee’s last three coaches (Bruce Pearl, Donnie Tyndall) were fired in connection with NCAA allegations, getting a coach with a clean slate was important. Barnes alluded to this by noting: “I can promise you this: Every day I’m going to protect the integrity of this great university. Our basketball program is going to mirror what this university stands for.”

Tennessee has reached one Elite Eight in program history but Barnes hinted that he is aiming a lot higher.

“I’ve had one goal in my life: To play for a national championship,” he said. “This is a university that provides you with everything you need to do that.”

Known as a quick rebuilder

With Tennessee coming off a 16-16 overall record that included a 7-11 SEC mark, Vol fans should be encouraged to learn that Barnes is a rapid rebuilder. Progress under his watch tends to start early.

His first (and only) team at George Mason went 20-10. At Providence of the rugged Big East, he went 18-11 in Year 1, 17-12 in Year 2. At Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Confernce, he went 15-13 in Year 1 and 18-11 in Year 2.

Barnes’ first season at Texas was especially memorable. The 1999 Longhorns stumbled out of the gate, then rallied from a 3-8 start to claim 16 of their final 21 games, capture the Big 12 title, earn an NCAA bid and win Barnes recognition as the league’s coach of the year. He followed with a 24-9 record in Year 2.

A look at likely staffers

Barnes still would be coaching the burnt orange of Texas instead of the Big Orange of Tennessee except that he declined to make staff changes mandated by the Texas administration last week. Given his devotion to those staffers, it’s a safe bet he’ll bring at least two of them with him to Tennessee. The best bet is associate head coach Rob Lanier, a high-energy recruiter who assisted Billy Donovan at Florida from 2007-2011. The other on-floor aides for the 2014-15 Longhorns were Russell Springmann, who worked for Donovan in Florida’s basketball office from 1996-98; Chris Ogden, who was captain of Barnes’ 2004 Final Four squad.

Barnes versus the Vols

Barnes played Tennessee four times while at Texas, going 2-2. His 2004-05 team hammered Buzz Peterson’s final Vol squad 95-70 in the Maui Invitational. His 2005-06 team lost 95-78 in Austin to Bruce Pearl’s first Vol team. His 2006-07 squad, led by the incomparable Kevin Durant, dropped a 111-105 overtime thriller in Knoxville. His 2007-08 team dumped Tennessee 97-78 in the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam tournament.

Insider Report: Barnes' presser

Hart speaks about Barnes' hiring

Click the InsideTennessee logo below to view a photo gallery of Barnes' formal announcement at Pratt Pavilion:

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