Could Rick Barnes Be A Victim of Timing?

If timing is everything, Rick Barnes’ timing might end up being his demise after 17 seasons at Texas.

Barnes, one of 13 active coaches with 600 victories, is the all-time winningest coach in Texas basketball history.

He can pad his 402-179 record (.692) at UT with a win over No. 6-seeded Butler Thursday in the NCAA Tournament – his 16th tourney appearance while at Texas.

Before Barnes arrived for the 1998-99 season, the Longhorns had gone to 16 NCAA Tournaments ever - in the previous 93 years of the program.

Barnes has won more games while at Texas than the previous three coaches won in Austin combined.

Under Barnes, Texas’ resume includes three regular-season Big 12 titles (two shared), a Final Four (2003), two Elite Eights (2006, 2008) and two Sweet 16s (2002, 2004). His tenure has also included a long list of NBA stars headlined by T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, Lamarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin and P.J. Tucker.

But if ever there was a season not to fall below expectations in Austin, it was this one.

Not after athletic director Steve Patterson raised ticket prices by 4 percent in anticipation of a big year. And not in the year Patterson is going to have to select a site for a new basketball arena he has priced at $450 million.

A source close to the situation told Patterson has to determine the location of UT’s new basketball arena in the next 12 months and wants to have $70 million raised in that time frame for what is expected to be the beginning of construction of a new arena within three years.

Is the Texas fan base - beleaguered by five years of mediocre football and six straight mediocre Marches in basketball - in the mood to give big dollars for a new basketball arena if Barnes is still the coach?

Some top donors to UT athletics told the reluctance of UT faithful to give has been the revenue-over-everything approach of Patterson.

“The guy clearly does not value developing or maintaining relationships,” one top donor said Monday of Patterson.

But Patterson isn’t going to blame himself if people aren’t reaching into their pockets to help pay for new facilities.

The blame will fall squarely on a guy like Barnes in a year like this. Even though no hoops coach has won bigger at UT.

Barnes has always declined to discuss his job status.


What percentage of the Longhorns’ fan base is still with Barnes? What percentage has turned on him?

Patterson is undoubtedly punching up those numbers on his adding machine.

The Horns opened the season No. 10 and ended up having to play their way back onto the NCAA tourney bubble with a late, three-game run vs Baylor, K-State and Texas Tech - followed by a crushing collapse against Iowa State.

In many ways, the Longhorns’ 69-67 loss on a last-second shot by ISU’s Monte Morris in which UT squandered a 10-point lead with 3:56 to play, symbolized UT’s season and the program the last 6-plus years.

The last six years, there’s been future NBA talent in the program – Dexter Pittman, Damion James, Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson. None of those players – with the exception of Pittman and James in 2008 - ever got out of the first weekend of NCAA tourney.


Texas basketball had never reached No. 1.

But Barnes took it there with a 17-0 start in the 2009-10 season, including wins over Top 10 teams North Carolina and Michigan State.

It was a loaded Texas team that included James, Pittman, Bradley, Hamilton and a solid mixture of veterans like Gary Johnson and youth, such as freshman PG J’Covan Brown.

But Barnes became so preoccupied with Hamilton and Brown not adhering to his defense-first principles that he angrily coached the life out of the team. The season slowly crumbled, finishing 7-10 and flaming out in the first round of the NCAA tourney.

When I said to Bradley late in that season, “It seems like everyone is uptight.” He said, “That’s because everyone is uptight.”

Unlike Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, who have made a point to get back to Texas to be around the program when they can, Bradley made a clean break from Barnes and UT after that one season.


Five players with eligibility made a clean break from Barnes and Texas after the 2012-13 season, Barnes’ only losing season at UT (16-18), punctuated with a first-round loss to Houston in the pay-your-own-way CBI tournament.

Point guard Myck Kabongo, who was suspended 23 games by the NCAA that season for lying about receiving an improper benefit, left early for the NBA and went undrafted.

Ioannis Papapetrou left early to play professionally in Greece. And three players transferred – Julien Lewis (Fresno State), Sheldon McClellan (Miami, Fla) and Jaylen Bond (Temple).

Things looked bleak for Barnes at that point. The rumblings in the athletic department and among top donors was that Barnes was coaching for his job last season.

With low expectations, Texas landed point guard Isaiah Taylor, who emerged as a budding star in the Big 12 as a freshman last season and meshed well with veterans. UT tied for third in the Big 12 with an 11-7 record. Barnes was voted Big 12 coach of the year by his conference peers. And the Longhorns beat Arizona State in the NCAA tourney before losing to Michigan in the round of 32.

So with the Longhorns returning 100 percent of their scoring while adding 5-star, freshman 7-footer Myles Turner, expectations were high coming into this season.

But after an 11-2 start that included Taylor missing 10 games with a broken left wrist, the team struggled to reintegrate Taylor back into the lineup, according to Barnes.

“Everyone had to go back to their roles before Isaiah’s injury, and some guys struggled with that,” Barnes said.

Barnes also mentioned concussions suffered by G Javan Felix and F Jonathan Holmes that caused both to miss a couple games each midway through the conference season. Barnes said those missed games didn’t allow his team to get into a rhythm until “two and a half weeks ago.”

“I don’t think there’s any coincidence that we’ve played our best basketball the last two and a half, three weeks, and he (Taylor) has played his best basketball,” Barnes said.


Are fans still listening to Barnes?

Is Patterson willing to listen?

Patterson has repeatedly turned down interview requests.

Call after call into sports talk radio shows in Austin complain about Barnes’ lack of offense, lack of consistency in player substitutions and lack of winning – period – in recent years, especially this season.

Can Barnes win over the fans with anything other than a run in the NCAA tourney beyond the first weekend (which would likely mean upsetting red-hot, No. 3 seeded Notre Dame) in the Round of 32?

Or has Patterson already made up his mind about whether he can raise $70 million toward a new basketball arena over the next 12 months without a new coach?

Patterson has proven to be nothing but a bottom-line guy as athletic director so far.

According to multiple sources, Patterson, the former president and GM of the Portland Trail Blazers, spends no time cultivating a relationship with any of his seven men’s coaches at UT - other than the meetings Patterson calls to brief them on his latest money-saving or money-generating initiative.

Barnes earned $2.625 million this season, plus a $125,000 bonus for making the NCAA Tournament.

Patterson’s success as an athletic director will be judged largely on the success of football coach Charlie Strong and his ability to build a new basketball arena to replace the Erwin Center, which will be demolished in roughly five years to make room for UT’s new medical school.

Patterson extended Barnes’ contract last August from 2017 through 2019, but the buyout remained unchanged. The buyout drops from $1.75 million to $1.5 million on April 1. Is Patterson two weeks from pulling the trigger on that buyout?

Or has survive and advance taken on a whole new meaning for Barnes and Texas this March?


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