AS RICK BARNES TURNS

The saga of As Rick Barnes Turns suddenly has more plot twists than March Madness itself.

I was told Wednesday that Tuesday's meeting between Texas athletic director Steve Patterson and Rick Barnes involved a discussion in which Patterson told Barnes he wanted to retain the 17-year UT basketball coach but that people "above" Patterson were pressuring him to fire Barnes.

Multiple sources told HornsDigest.com that any decision on Barnes would belong only to Patterson, the former president and GM of the Portland Trail Blazers. Yet, I was told Barnes absolutely believed Patterson was fighting with one or more people "above" him to retain Barnes as coach.

And then came news leaks Thursday night to the Austin American-Statesman, The Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express-News – almost at the exact same time - from a source close to Patterson that Patterson has told Barnes to either make staff changes or be gone.

How did things go from Patterson saying he was fighting to keep Barnes to a source close to Patterson telling the Austin American-Statesman: "Steve wants changes to be made. He wants to see improvement. If we don't get those changes, (Patterson) will have to make a change." ... ?

Apparently the same source close to Patterson told The Dallas Morning News Thursday night staff changes needed to be made or Barnes would be gone: "Steve Patterson believes the status quo is not acceptable. He wants changes to be made to the program to make it more successful."

And according to the San Antonio Express-News, a source close to Patterson said Patterson told Barnes he needs to make significant changes in order to keep his job: "(Patterson) told him (Barnes) the status quo is unacceptable."

Barnes didn't respond to requests for comment Thursday night. Nor did Patterson’s spokesman Nick Voinis. UT president Bill Powers' spokesman Gary Susswein declined comment, saying all of his focus was on the UT regents' conference call at 8:30 am CT Friday to name Powers' successor (HD was the first to report the lone finalist would be UT provost Gregory Fenves). 

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After a loss to Butler in the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament, Barnes acknowledged he needed to improve his team’s offense. UT’s 48 points in a 56-48 loss to Butler was a season low as well as the lowest output of the tourney in the round of 64.

But Barnes strongly defended his coaching staff and accused a reporter of "creating the news" when asked if changing the offense would mean staff changes?

"I have a great staff," Barnes said in defense of associate head coach Rob Lanier and assistant coaches Russ Springmann and Chris Ogden.

Lanier coached with Barnes at Texas from 1999 to 2001 before becoming a head coach at Siena (2001-05) and then an assistant at Virginia (2005-07) and at Florida under Billy Donovan (2007-10) before returning to UT in 2011.

Springmann, who recruited Kevin Durant and later named his son, Durant, has been on Barnes' staff since 2001. And Ogden, a captain on Barnes’ 2003 Final Four team, is in his 7th year as an assistant coach at UT and most recently recruited 7-footer Myles Turner.

During his 18 months as athletic director at Arizona State, Patterson basically directed basketball coach Herb Sendek - like Barnes, a defensive-minded coach - to perk up the Sun Devils' offense by hiring former NBA coach Eric Musselman and former NBA assistant coach Larry Greer as Sendek assistants.

Musselman moved on after two seasons to become associate head coach at LSU. Greer was still on Sendek's staff when Sendek was fired on Tuesday after nine years as ASU's coach.

Are we about to experience Patterson's Part 2 of the Sendek Solution?

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Let's get back to the latest episode of As Barnes Turns. If Patterson can be muscled by someone “above” him into making a ruling on a coach's fate after ignoring UT power brokers and going lone ranger in the decision to hire Charlie Strong, my how things have changed.

If in discussions about possible staff changes, Patterson got Barnes to see the light about bringing in one or more new assistants to provide fresh ideas – why leak ultimatums that diminish Barnes to the press? Why not let Barnes, who has been to the NCAA Tournament 16 of the past 17 years, handle that internally and announce it on his own terms?

And if Barnes, who is fiercely loyal and didn’t want to make staff changes a week ago, was still resistant to staff changes this week – then was Patterson ever really fighting to save Barnes from people “above” the AD?

Or was Patterson telling Barnes on Tuesday that he needed more time to fight for Barnes to get to April 1, when Barnes’ contract buyout drops from $1.75 million to $1.5 million for a less expensive purging? 

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Was anyone “above” Patterson really pressuring the AD about firing Barnes after the national embarrassment that played out in the firing of former football coach Mack Brown in December 2013?

Back then, Brown lobbied Patterson incessantly that if Patterson succumbed to pressure from power brokers at UT in getting rid of Brown, Patterson would never have control of the AD’s job at Texas.

Patterson ultimately agreed and decided to retain Brown as football coach, even announcing on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, to 17 football recruits and their families on their official visits that Brown would continue to be their coach.

But there was enough division among UT power brokers over Brown staying on as coach that UT president Bill Powers told Patterson - hours after Patterson told those recruits Brown was staying – that Brown would be going.

Talk about a memorable official visit. You get a football coach for breakfast and no football coach for dinner.

Sources close to the situation said the Brown ordeal caused Patterson to keep big-money boosters and other UT power brokers in the dark about goings on, so he wouldn't be beholden to anyone on the big decisions, such as the hiring of football coach Charlie Strong.

Patterson's refusal to return calls during that search from the likes of billionaire UT booster Red McCombs, who was pushing Jon Gruden, prompted McCombs' “position coach, maybe a coordinator” description of Strong in a radio interview. Those close to McCombs say he was so pissed off at Patterson for ignoring him that it ended up coming out as a slap at Strong. (McCombs has since apologized profusely to Strong.) 

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I was told on Monday that it was not looking good for Barnes and that the decision was solely up to Patterson.

After jacking up 2015 prices and threatening Texas faculty, staff and fans with losing their football season tickets if they are resold, Patterson has proven in more than a year at UT, he cares more about financial bottom lines than about people, multiple sources have said.

And Patterson has indicated to the UT administration $70 million needs to be raised in the next 12 months for a new basketball arena he has priced at $450 million. The Erwin Center is being replaced by UT’s new medical school, and ground will be broken within three years on a new arena, sources told HD.

Sources close to the situation said Patterson had expressed real concerns about being able to raise that money if Barnes didn’t have a strong end to this season. And then UT finished 8-10 in Big 12 play, barely made the NCAA Tournament, only to lose in the round of 64 after being a preseason Top 10 team.

Thursday night’s press leaks from a source close to Patterson about a do-it-or-lose-it ultimatum to Barnes didn’t feel like the narrative of someone fighting for a 600-win coach against people “above” the athletic director.

It felt more like an AD trying to throw his weight around to a hoped-for donor base disenchanted with more than a few things in their athletics program – including 5 years of non-refundable football and 7 years of basketball that has largely underperformed its NBA talent.

But if Barnes agrees to make staff changes to earn Patterson's blessing and to continue on as UT’s all-time winningest coach for an 18th season, maybe the press leaks somehow end up being Patterson’s way of fighting for Barnes.

It’s hard to know what to believe involving the Texas athletic department these days.

 

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