VOL. 8 | NO. 52 | Saturday, December 19, 2015
New Vols Coach Ready to Rebuild
By Dave Link | Special to The Tennessee Ledger
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes isn’t complaining about the shortcomings of his basketball team.
The Vols don’t have a true point guard on the roster. They don’t have a low post ready for Division I basketball, either. And the six holdovers from the previous coaching staff are getting accustomed to the newcomers brought in after Barnes was hired last March 31.
Barnes cherishes the fresh start he got at Tennessee after he was fired by Texas on March 29. The firing ended a run with the Longhorns that included 16 trips to the NCAA tournament in 17 seasons, 402 victories, and a Final Four appearance in 2003.
First-year Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes might not have an abundance of star players on this year’s roster, but he likes the culture and is confident of long-term success.
(Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics/UTSports.Com)
His first team at UT is a long shot to make the NCAAs. The Vols were 4-4 going into Wednesday night’s home game against Florida Atlantic and coming off losses to George Washington and Nebraska in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn, and at Butler, 94-86, last Saturday at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“I love the culture they’ve built here (at Butler),” Barnes said after the game. “I love what they’ve done here, and I think that Tennessee can have what everybody else in the country has. Again, I like this group of guys.”
Barnes’ departure from Texas was ugly. Along with others in the athletics department, Barnes never got along with former athletic director Steve Patterson, who took over when DeLoss Dodds retired after the 2013-14 school year.
Patterson was fired by Texas this September.
Barnes finds himself a much better fit with Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart. He signed a six-year contract for $2.25 million a year with a potential of $700,000 a year in bonuses for wins, tournament titles, and coaching honors.
“I know this, up until my last two years at Texas, I’ve always worked for a guy that hired me, and you’ve got a relationship with an athletic director that (for) one, you know has been there,” Barnes says.
“For instance, Dave Hart has been around a long time. He’s grown up in the athletic world. He understands it at a very high level, and I know Barry Collier (Butler athletics director) knows what it’s like to be a coach. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re out there on an island all by yourself as a coach.”
Perhaps that’s the way Barnes felt in his final days at Texas.
Barnes said Patterson told him he would return for the 2015-16 season despite a first-round loss to Butler in the NCAA tournament, and then said he was told by the AD he needed to fire members of his coaching staff in order to stay.
Those staffers offered to step down. Barnes wouldn’t let them. So Barnes was out the Texas door, and four members of his staff soon joined him at Tennessee: associate head coach Rob Lanier, assistant coach Chris Ogden, strength and conditioning coach Garrett Medenwald, and video coordinator Riley Davis.
“What I love about the University of Tennessee,” Barnes explains, “and I had it at Texas for the majority of the time, I had it at Clemson, Providence, all those places, was not just an AD who wanted to be good at my sport. He wanted to be good in everything. I think that is what makes great athletic programs.”
A native of Hickory, N.C., Barnes has been a winner at all of his stops as a head coach: George Mason (1987-88), Providence (1988-94), Clemson (1994-98), and Texas (1998-2015).
His rebuild at Tennessee won’t happen overnight.
Barnes is the Vols’ fourth coach in six years, and two of them, Bruce Pearl and Donnie Tyndall, left under NCAA investigations and violations.
Tyndall was able to squeeze a 16-16 record (7-11 in SEC) last season with a team he recruited in a few months, and there was the usual attrition after he was fired March 27.
Willie Carmichael III, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound freshman forward, transferred to Western Kentucky, and 6-10, 205 freshman guard/forward Tariq Owens transferred to St. John’s.
UT lost another backup Dec. 1 when Jabari McGhee announced he was leaving the program. McGhee, a 6-5 senior forward, was averaging 3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 10.8 minutes in six games this season.
Carmichael played in all 32 games last season, started 19, and averaged 3.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 14.8 minutes per game. Owens played in 28 games with five starts and averaged 1.2 points, 1.1 rebounds, and 7.6 minutes.
Those don’t sound like big numbers, but one or both of them would bolster UT’s inside presence and production until freshmen posts Ray Kasongo and Kyle Alexander develop.
Barnes’ backcourt plans were dealt a blow when 6-2 freshman point guard Lamonte’ Turner was declared ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse before the season.
Turner, who originally planned to start college in 2016, changed his mind last April and enrolled at Tennessee in August. The NCAA scrutinized his paperwork due to him attending three high schools – he graduated from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida – and ruled him ineligible in late September.
Most recently, Barnes has been missing junior guard Robert Hubbs III, who had arthroscopic knee surgery Dec. 1 during the Vols’ two-week break before the Butler game. Hubbs, who scored 13 or more points in UT’s first seven games, had surgery for chronic swelling in his knee.
Barnes hopes Hubbs can return for the Dec. 22 game against East Tennessee State University at Thompson-Boling Arena, which would mean Hubbs would miss games against Florida Atlantic (Wednesday night) and against Gonzaga in Seattle on Saturday.
Tennessee, picked to finish 12th in the SEC in the preseason media poll, begins league play Jan. 2 at Auburn and plays host to Florida Jan. 6 in its first SEC game in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Most prognosticators predict the Vols will struggle to reach .500 in the SEC due to issues with rebounding, defense, and at point guard.
Barnes knows all that, but he likes the future of Tennessee basketball working under Hart and Jon Gilbert, executive senior associate athletics director.
“I’m very lucky to have the job I have because I’ve got Dave (Hart), John Gilbert, those guys really care, and we have a group of fans who really care,” Barnes points out.
“One thing I’ve noticed about Tennessee fans is they come to games. Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve had a group that have followed us, and that’s exciting for us. Now as coaches, we’ve just got to do our job because they’re going to give us everything we need, so I’m excited with what we’ve got coming up, and I think this team’s got a chance to win some games, I really do.”
Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.