Chris Ogden was just trying to enjoy his Saturday afternoon of unemployment.
The longtime Texas assistant was grilling hamburgers and washer pitching with a friend, basking in the Lonestar State sun and winding down after the long grind of a college basketball season a few hours removed from being told he would no longer be welcome at the place where he spent the past 16 years.
His head coach, Rick Barnes, and the rest of the staff were dismissed by Texas that day at 3 p.m., which was an honest shock if you ask them. But Ogden had plenty of time on his hands, so he did what any red-blooded American would do in that situation — he started to grill.
Five hours later, his phone began to buzz. It was Barnes.
“I’m out cooking some burgers at a friend’s house, having a couple of drinks, and I get a call from coach about 8 o’clock that night,” Ogden said. “‘(He said) hey, look man, I’m going to do a press conference here and I’m flying out to Tennessee. They offered me the job. I’ll come pick you up on Wednesday.’ It was a little quicker than most. I had about five hours of stress there, so that was pretty good.”
As easy as hanging up the phone, Ogden was employed again, this time at one of the most resourced programs in the SEC. With one phone call, the 12-year Texas assistant agreed to his first ever job outside of his home state.
The Big 12 basketball connoisseur knew about the Ernie and Bernie Show, the Bruce Pearl years and Tennessee’s raucous home court advantage. He even concedes, without contemplation, that he looks much better in a brighter shade of orange.
“It’s always been a program that I think people look at and think of as a gold mine due to its proximity to big markets and just the tradition that it’s had over time,” Ogden said of Tennessee.
He’s now an integral part of that tradition, the guy partly in charge of changing the basketball culture in Knoxville that has revolved around a revolving door of coaches since Bruce Pearl was let go in 2011. The constant change has stagnated the round ball growth of Tennessee, and Ogden — who faced off against Carmelo Anthony in the NCAA Tournament and coached Kevin Durant in one, too — will bring his vast amount of basketball experience to a new part of the country now.
This isn’t a duct tape job, either. He knows it’s going to take extensive tinkering, monk-like patience and voracious work. But if there’s anyone willing to do that, it’s the guy who helped Texas win with his effort inside the locker room as much as he did on the court.
“We’re going to get the guys that we think will help us build the program over time, not just the one, two year stopgaps,” Ogden said. “We’re trying to build a true basketball program that, whenever the time is that we leave here and Coach (Barnes) leaves here, it’s looked upon nationally as one of the top programs in the country.”
The new scenery has provided a breath of literal and metaphorical fresh air for Ogden, who leaves behind the interminable Texas flatlands for the rolling east Tennessee mountains. It’s also breathed new life into Barnes, who is destined to show his doubters he’s still an elite basketball coach.
“I think he’s excited to be here and be back kind of in his neck of the woods, really. He’s been on this side of the country more in his coaching career than he’s been in Texas,” Ogden said. “He’s been over here a long time, so there’s a certain sense of excitement there, but he’s still the same guy. He’s going to coach the same way. He’s going to recruit the same type of players to build a program with.”
Ogden compares coaches to cats. No matter how high you throw them, they always seem to land on their feet. Touching down in Knoxville, at a place with an embarrassment of riches both in finance and facility, was a welcomed surprise.
“I told somebody the other day, if this is what it’s liked to get fired and you land in Knoxville, this is great,” Ogden said with a laugh. “Hell, fire us more often.”
Despite his affable nature and polished wit, Ogden admits the move was hard. Any time you leave a place where you’ve spent almost two decades certainly is. He’s got an extra pep in his step now, though, knowing he and his friends were shown the door at Texas.
But at the end of the day, he’s awlays out to finish what he’s started, be it a basketball program or a barbecue.
That’s evident by the first thing he did after learning he was a Tennessee Volunteer.
“You want the truth?,” Ogden asked as a smile curled around his lips.
“I went back to throwing washers."
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