It was good to wake up Monday morning as Tennessee men's basketball coach Rick Barnes.
Less than 24 hours earlier you had been honored as the Naismith national coach of the year. By Sunday's end you not only were being officially wooed by college hoops giant UCLA but also had held an initial meeting with Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer about what compensation might be required to keep you.
But it was apparently even better to go to bed Monday night as Rick Barnes, your foreseeable future seemingly certain to mirror your recent past as coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Or as Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer noted in a late Monday release: "The last few days have been interesting to say the least. One of the nation's most tradition-rich college basketball programs identified what we here at Tennessee already knew — that Rick Barnes is one of the game's elite coaches and a program-changer. The University of Tennessee and East Tennessee as a whole have developed an enhanced love and appreciation for our men's basketball program and its culture under Rick's leadership, and I'm thrilled that he will remain a part of our Tennessee Athletics family."
Then Fulmer apparently made sure the good news continued for both himself and the Big Orange Nation by reportedly locking up Kellie Jolly Harper as the new Lady Vols coach to replace the recently fired Holly Warlick.
While details of what it took to keep Barnes or hire Harper have not yet become available, the very fact that these two stories are coming to an end can't help but be beneficial to Fulmer in particular and the program in general as it seeks to erase a debt of more than $6 million. Nothing eats up budgets like the continuall hiring and firing of coaches and the searches those moves cost to conduct.
With Harper about to begin her tenure and the 64-year-old Barnes now likely to end his distinguished career with the Big Orange, the fan base can now breathe much easier for a bit. And if football under Jeremy Pruitt can begin to mirror the success Barnes has created in hoops, those annual million-dollar contracts to attract offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and his defensive counterpart, Derrick Ansley, may not look so fiscally risky down the road.
So what to make of all this? Has Fulmer ever looked better as an athletic director? Was Barnes wise to stay rather than go? Is the Big Orange Nation now about to finally enjoy some long-needed peace and quiet and stability within its athletic department?
First, any request within reason by Barnes regarding his salary and, more specifically, his staff's salaries — Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne's annual $900,000 salary almost matches the combined salaries of Barnes' entire staff — needed to be met, and the fact that Barnes is staying indicates it was.
Second, Barnes almost certainly decided he didn't need to depart Rocky Top. Yes, UCLA has the most NCAA men's basketball championships (11) in the history of the sport. But John Wooden won 10 of those, the last coming in 1975, the year the Wizard of Westwood called it quits. The Bruins haven't reached a Final Four in 11 years, haven't played in a title game since 2006 and haven't won it all since 1995.
He also grew up in Hickory, North Carolina, an easy three-hour drive from Knoxville. With the exception of his five years at Providence, he'd spent his entire coaching tenure in Southern communities where the university — be it George Mason, Clemson, Texas or Tennessee — was the biggest show in town.
In spite of the pressure to win from UCLA boosters and administrators, the Bruins are nowhere near the biggest thing in Los Angeles. Nor will they ever be with multiple NFL, NBA and professional baseball teams, plus Hollywood.
One other thing. Barnes reportedly doesn't have an agent. Everybody in L.A. has an agent. Dishwashers, waiters, candlestick makers. You probably need an agent to make a lunch reservation at Spago.
And speaking of lunch, Barnes just earned a lifetime of free food by staying with the Vols, everything from hamburgers (Stock and Barrel) and pizza (Hard Knox Pizzeria) to cinnamon rolls for the coach and his assistants (Scrambled Jake's), according to a Knoxville News Sentinel article.
It's wonderful to be wanted by the UCLA brass. It's better to have the Big Orange Nation put its money-makers where your mouth is.
So barring a last-second change of heart from Harper — which isn't likely, given her playing days with the Lady Vols — the Big Orange Nation can now turn its attention to this Saturday's Orange-White spring football game, which is what it always prefers to do this time of year.
Nor will Fulmer feel any need to avoid Neyland Stadium on Saturday in order to dodge questions about Barnes' departure or who'll be the next women's coach. Those problems are now behind him. He'll now be quite favorably and rightly viewed as the athletic director determined to return the Lady Vols to the nation's elite while making certain the men's hoops program remains there.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
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