The necessary component in establishing a winning sports program is hiring the right coach. Having a long-established tradition of winning in a specific sport makes it easier, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Most men’s college basketball, and football, teams go as the coach does. Top tier coaches tend to be there at the end of the season, holding the most prized trophy their sport gives out.
Picking confetti of their necks, like chopped bits of hair after a visit to the local barber, is something most coaches don’t experience. Both Coach Pruitt and Coach Warlick have experienced winning national titles many times, albeit as assistants to two of the greatest coaches in any sport. Coach Barnes has yet put a finger print on the national championship trophy, though his best chance to do so was in 2003.
Coach Barnes was a quick hire for the Vols. Tennessee had him on their payroll within weeks of Texas firing him. He is the most accomplished coach Tennessee has put in charge of the men’s basketball program and he hasn’t disappointed. In his third season, Tennessee finished 13th in the AP top 25 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014. High expectations are beginning to swirl around the men’s basketball program again, but are they realistic?
Will Tennesse win a National Title in Coach Barnes tenure? No. Final Four? It’s possible. Until the NCAA fixes the one-and-done rule, Coach Barnes has to recruit one of two ways: lure one-year players away from top schools like Duke and Kentucky or convince NBA level talent to stay at least three years like Coach Wright at Villanova.
Kevin Durant played for Coach Barnes at Texas for the 2006-2007 season and how he got a top-level talent from the D.C. area to come to Texas falls just short of amazing. He has also convinced players with NBA futures to stay for more than a year (T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge). The ability to recruit is there and his ability to coach is well above average. It’s to be seen if he can again compete with elite coaches while selling great high school players on coming to a football focused university.
Tennessee greatly overachieved this past season and it remains to be seen if this team can at least match that success as an AP top 10 team going in to the 2018-2019 season. Coach Barnes is a very good coach and Tennessee should contend for the SEC championship every year. Expecting the Vols to be annual members of the NCAA Tournament is realistic and gives UT basketball fans a reason to be excited.
Expecting more than being in the field of 64 every March from a basketball team at a football school would be quixotic, but should the Vol fanbase be okay with this? I think so, but I don’t feel good admitting it. Coach Barnes is the best coach for the Vols currently, but our expectations for his teams shouldn’t surpass his coaching record. Fortunately for Tennessee, Texas expected more. The Vols got more.