Rick Barnes embraces 'incredible opportunity' with Vols

Rick Barnes embraces 'incredible opportunity' with Vols

April 1st, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Former University of Texas head basketball coach Rick Barnes addresses reporters after being named head coach at the University of Tennessee on Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Knoxville.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Rick Barnes was hopeful he'd have his 18th season at Texas.

The winningest coach in the basketball program's history had just guided the Longhorns to a 16th NCAA tournament in 17 seasons and was slated to return most of the roster and add a top-20 recruiting class.

POLL: Is Rick Barnes the right hire for UT's basketball program?

That would not be the case when Barnes declined to make changes to his coaching staff and the two parties agreed to part ways, but by the time that was officially announced Saturday, Barnes already was in contact with Tennessee.

Less than 72 hours later, the 60-year-old Barnes was being introduced as the head coach of the Volunteers and breathing the fresh air that inevitably comes with a change of scenery.

"If you told me that we were going to go to 16 of 17 NCAA tournaments, I would be dancing in the streets," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said Tuesday afternoon after landing a coach with 600 career wins.

"It's in the eye of the beholder. I don't think anybody can match the track record that Rick Barnes has put on display."

Given how his successful tenure at Texas ended, Barnes now is hoping to add to that track record at Tennessee, a program that's changed coaches twice within the past calendar year.

"I wouldn't be honest with you if I didn't say it didn't have an impact," he said. "I've always had one goal, and that was to do a job and finish the job, and the job was to win it all. That's what it was about. There's no doubt, and there's nothing bitter about my time at Texas. It was an incredible opportunity. This is an incredible opportunity.

"We know this basketball program's had success. We know that, so we know it can be done. It's been done. The fact is, I wanted to be a part of, when my time is up, I do want to really leave it better than we found it."

Hart probably couldn't believe the position in which he found himself Saturday.

After the messy exit of Donnie Tyndall, who was fired Friday after just one season amid an NCAA investigation into his former program at Southern Mississippi, Hart had to get this hire right, and he knew it.

Reports that Barnes would not return to Texas surfaced nationally on Friday, and when he met with Todd Turner, a former athletic director at Vanderbilt, Connecticut and North Carolina State who's now the president of the search firm Collegiate Sports Associates, Hart said he wanted to talk first with Barnes.

Former University of Texas head basketball coach Rick Barnes, left, waits with his wife, Candy, before being named the new head coach at the University of Tennessee on Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Knoxville.

Former University of Texas head basketball coach Rick...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Turner screened more candidates, but the search essentially began and ended with Barnes when he returned the interest.

"I think we were due a break in timing," Hart said, "and we got one."

Hart and Barnes had crossed paths before.

As an associate athletic director under Ken Carr at East Carolina in 1987, Hart brought Barnes, then an assistant coach at Ohio State, in for an interview for a head coaching job that ultimately went to DePaul's Mike Steele.

Hart later passed Barnes' name on to George Mason, where Barnes got his first head coaching gig in 1987.

"I said you need to talk to Rick Barnes," Hart recalled. "He's young, but I think he's going to be special. They did talk to him, and they hired him."

Hart and Tennessee officials flew to Austin on Sunday to pick up Barnes, and the two sides spent the next 48 hours hammering out the details of a deal that was finalized Tuesday morning.

Once word got out he was considering the Tennessee job, Barnes, who plans to bring some assistant coaches with him from Texas but hadn't finalized anything on that front as of Tuesday night, received a text message from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo telling him to take the job. That was 90 minutes before the Spartans beat Louisville in the Elite Eight on Sunday.

Kentucky's John Calipari, a friend of Barnes, told him the same thing. Even Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops texted Barnes a congratulatory message Monday night.

"It was not hard to get excited," Barnes said. "It goes back to the respect here. ... I'm humbled by so many people and the way they've reached out, and the fact that so many people, once the news broke that I was involved, just everyone telling me, 'That's going to be awesome, it's going to be great.'"

Now it's up to Barnes to bring stability to a program that's been to one NCAA tournament in four seasons.

"The one thing (Hart) said, we've got to create stability," Barnes said, "and to be honest with you, we have to do what we have to do in terms of signing contracts, but I would've dealt with Dave on a handshake, because I know what he wants.

"Dave Hart knows athletics, and he's made some major impacts in this, but the one thing I know is his commitment here. I would work for him on a handshake. I fully expect this to be my last job."

And Hart has no concerns about his hire's ability to pull it off despite his age and how his time at Texas ended.

"When we picked Rick up, we had an hour-and-a-half flight back or so, two hours. I no longer had any concern about that," Hart said. "He's the same fiery guy. He's the same level of enthusiasm.

"One of the most important elements in this process (was) we needed stability. We needed badly to have stability, and he will bring us that. He'll bring us a level of maturity, a level of success that will serve us very well."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.