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Tennessee Hires Rick Barnes

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In less than a week, the Vols get the guy they wanted. Will Barnes find the same success in Knoxville he had earlier in his career at Texas?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

To be truly successful over multiple seasons in college basketball, you need The Right Guy at The Right Time.  It's a tricky marriage, because you always want to believe the coach you have is The Right Guy, but sometimes The Right Time is the more difficult variable.  In the last 30 years, I believe Tennessee has only truly found this combination twice:  Kevin O'Neill, who rebuilt a 5-22 program in the aftermath of Wade Houston and stocked the cupboard with championship talent before leaving for Northwestern, and of course Bruce Pearl.  In hindsight, Jerry Green was here at The Right Time, but he clearly wasn't The Right Guy.  Cuonzo Martin could have been The Right Guy, but not when he followed Bruce Pearl.

Rick Barnes is, without question, The Right Guy.  His history at George Mason, Providence, Clemson, and Texas is more impressive than what Tennessee has been able to put together in our entire basketball history.  Consider:

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances:  Barnes 22, Tennessee 20
  • Sweet 16s (since expansion to 64):  Barnes 6, Tennessee 5
  • Elite Eights:  Barnes 3, Tennessee 1
  • Final Fours:  Barnes 1, Tennessee 0
  • All-Time Winning Percentage:  Barnes .658, Tennessee .610
Since taking over at Texas in 1998, Barnes has also won more regular season conference titles in a  league with Kansas (3) than the Vols have won during that span in a league with Kentucky (2).

There are zero complaints with this hire on paper.  Barnes instantly becomes the most prestigious coach in Tennessee's history, which is impressive considering Tennessee's historical place in the SEC and important considering the growing quality of coaching in the SEC.

Rick Barnes is absolutely The Right Guy.  Is this The Right Time?

The Right Time is a tricky component in any coaching search.  When the Vols moved on Phillip Fulmer, there wasn't an option to go pay Nick Saban or Urban Meyer.  Lane Kiffin was among the best Tennessee could do; those 2008 coaching changes with seven years of hindsight do include Gene Chizik, who won a title on the strength of Gus Malzahn, and Dan Mullen, but no one who felt like a lock at the time.  The Right Time definitely wasn't the following January, when Charlie Strong was already at Louisville and Brian Kelly was already at Notre Dame when the Vols had to go looking again.

This time around Tennessee is willing to pay for The Right Guy; if the Vols had gone directly from Bruce Pearl to Rick Barnes, fans would have been more pleased.  But in this coaching search, Tennessee was clearly the beneficiary of fortunate timing.

The Vols didn't want to move on Donnie Tyndall, but his actions ultimately gave them no choice.  This would not have happened if Tyndall didn't cheat.  This might not have happened if the NCAA moved even slower in detailing their allegations on Tyndall.  Our previous coach wasn't The Right Guy, but his dismissal happened at exactly The Right Time.

So will it now be The Right Time for Barnes in Knoxville?

It's a question Texas had to ask themselves, ultimately pushing Barnes to make changes in his coaching staff which led us to this point today.  Barnes, very much like Phillip Fulmer, was The Right Guy at Texas, but The Right Time ran out for him, a victim of his own success and an inability to maintain it in the last few years of his tenure.  Fulmer was The Right Guy at The Right Time for many great years in Knoxville, but the majority would still argue that time ran out at the end.

So, at age 60, is this The Right Time for Barnes at Tennessee?  I think right now, the answer is definitely yes.  The Vols are on their third coach in as many years and desperately need stability in the program.  Barnes can provide that, and his track record absolutely suggests he can recruit championship-capable talent to Knoxville.

Will it still be The Right Time for Barnes when that championship-capable talent is on campus and ready to win in two or three years?  Those are the hardest questions today:  is Barnes irreversibly on a downward trend in his career, and could Barnes get more out of that talent in March than he did in Austin (which was still quite a bit)?

They are fair questions...but if those are the hardest questions we have to ask, Tennessee did very well here.

As The Right Guy, Rick Barnes will get the opportunity to make this The Right Time for Tennessee.  I am very excited to see what happens.

There's nothing officially official yet, but this is currently happening:

UPDATE:  Officially official.  Go Big Orange.