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Tennessee Coaching Search: What About Rick Barnes?

The recent change at Texas could provide Tennessee with its leading candidate.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It never fails when you do one of these hot boards that the first names being reported in the aftermath are off your initial list.  First it was Butler's Chris Holtmann.  But now a far more recognizable name has become available, and the stars may be aligning for a truer shade of orange.

So how would Tennessee fans receive Rick Barnes?

Barnes is from just up the road a few hours in Hickory, North Carolina.  And his wife Candy has The Gruden Factor, a Tennessee alum who I'm sure wouldn't mind coming back this way.

Barnes spent 11 years at George Mason, Providence, and Clemson before taking the Texas job in 1998.  After scoring six NCAA Tournament appearances in those first 11 years, including a Sweet 16 in 1997 with Clemson, Barnes immediately won the Big 12 at Texas and put the Longhorns in the tournament.

Making the field of 64/68 has never been his problem:  16 times in 17 years the Longhorns went dancing.  Barnes and Texas peaked from 2002-2008:  a trip to the 2003 Final Four, Elite Eight appearances in 2006 and 2008, and two other trips to the Sweet Sixteen along with a pair of Big 12 titles.

So there's clearly a pedigree here that would exceed even what Bruce Pearl did at Tennessee.  But there's also a Phillip Fulmer quality of being unable to maintain your initial success:  since 2008 Texas has made the tournament all but once, but never made it out of the first weekend.  Their seeds in the last seven years:  7, 8, 4, 11, missed, 7, 11.  This is compared to his run from 2002-2008 when they were seeded 6, 1, 3, 8, 2, 4, 2.

But perhaps a change of scenery would do him good.  His ability to recruit has never been in doubt:  Texas has put 15 players in the NBA Draft during Barnes' tenure, including LaMarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin, Avery Bradley, Daniel Gibson, and of course Kevin Durant.  This leads to the most common knock on Barnes:  a perceived inability to get the most out of his talent, with the Longhorns falling to a lower seeded team in the NCAA Tournament nine times during his tenure.  Texas signed five five-star players since 2010; their slight dip in play the last few years hasn't necessarily been because of a dip in overall talent.

Still, you're talking about a coach with 400 wins and a .691 winning percentage at Texas, including .664 in the Big 12.  I have no doubt Barnes would bring stability and bring Tennessee consistent success in the SEC.  Even achieving slightly less than what he did at Texas would still match the best that's ever been done at Tennessee.

Barnes is 60 years old and commanded $2.4 million at Texas.  The Vols would almost certainly have to bump up the $1.6 million they were paying Donnie Tyndall to get Barnes to come.  That's the big question here:  is Rick Barnes the best long-term hire for Tennessee, and the best bang for their buck?  How long does Barnes still want to coach and effectively recruit?  How long will it take Tennessee's current roster, even with Barnes, to get a return on its plus-or-minus $2.4 million dollar investment?

If there's such a thing as a safe, expensive hire, Barnes is it.  Tennessee could pay less and roll the dice on a younger guy who might ultimately get more out of his players, but that person would be a bigger risk up front at a critical time for Tennessee Basketball in a fast-rising SEC.  If Barnes only has Cuonzo Martin levels of success in Knoxville, how would fans receive it with a higher price tag?

I think Tennessee can absolutely do much worse than Rick Barnes.  I have some of the same concerns you do, but the recruiting and the overall record could easily allow us to talk ourselves into this one pretty quickly.  Could the Vols be better off five years from now with someone else, someone younger at the helm?  Maybe.  It's a risk, and Barnes has already won the rewards Tennessee is looking for.

More than anything, hiring Barnes would say something about the athletic department's commitment to basketball and the price you often have to pay to win.  If nothing else, going after Barnes would show Tennessee is serious about committing to basketball financially, and that would be a step in the right direction.

How would you respond to Rick Barnes as Tennessee's coach?