KNOXVILLE — Rick Barnes has been the men's basketball coach at Tennessee for just 2 1/2 years, but he is working for his third boss after Phillip Fulmer was installed as the university's athletic director Friday.
"After practice yesterday, I ran over just to see him briefly, very briefly," Barnes said Saturday before the Volunteers left on a bus trip to Atlanta for today's game against Georgia Tech. "It's been tough times, obviously. I really do feel for John Currie and his family. John was always good with me."
Fulmer replaced Currie in the midst of a tumultuous search for a football coach, just eight months after Currie started the job and began building a relationship with Barnes. Former Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart hired Barnes in March 2015. Since that time, Tennessee has also changed chancellors.
Beverly Davenport, the second of those chancellors, both hired Currie and relieved him of his duties. Barnes said he has "the utmost respect" for Davenport and that he's not sure if he has ever met anyone as passionate about the University of Tennessee as Fulmer.
"He was born and bred a Tennesseean and he loves it, and I've heard him talk about it many times how much he loves this place and what it means to him," Barnes said. "There's a lot that's happened, and what I know is that we've got to continue to build and move forward and strive to be the best we can be in every sport here."
The turmoil within the athletic department comes as Barnes fields his most talented Tennessee team yet. The Vols (5-1) received 14 votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll this past week and were listed as a No. 10 seed in ESPN college basketball expert Joe Lunardi's first NCAA tournament projection.
Barnes called the "Fire Currie!" chants that came from the student section during the basketball Vols win over Mercer at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday "disappointing." Barnes, 63, who previously coached at the University of Texas, and Fulmer share a mutual friend in former Longhorns football coach Mack Brown.
"Coach (Fulmer) has always, since the first time I met him, been very kind to me," Fulmer said. "Like I said, I've had some great talks with him where I know he loves this university. He really does. I think he's going to do whatever he can and in his power to get this whole thing back on track where we need it to be and move forward."
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