Late on Sunday night, Tennessee basketball fans went into a state of panic. After a record breaking 31-6 season, Rick Barnes was reportedly connected to the UCLA opening. As the hours passed, it became painfully obvious that his interest in the job was very real.
UCLA reportedly came in with an offer of five million per year, forcing Tennessee to come back with a competitive offer. Eventually, Barnes opted to stay at Tennessee and continue building his program.
Why even entertain leaving? Rick Barnes explained to ESPN on Tuesday.
“It had nothing to do with Tennessee,” Barnes told ESPN. “I’ve been here for four years and could never, ever say enough about the way this university, this state and the Vol Nation has treated me. It was simply the lure of UCLA basketball. I remember all those great teams and great players going back to Lucius Allen, Tommy Curtis, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, and I had a chance to spend quality time with Coach Wooden in his later years when I was able to go by and meet with him at his condo and go to lunch with him.
“So the way I look at UCLA basketball might be different than some people look at it now. But, still, in my mind, the UCLA basketball job was something I thought I had to look at.”
UCLA basketball is undoubtedly a top flight job in college basketball, even in their current state. The history and tradition, along with the fact that the Pac-12’s lack of competition had to be somewhat enticing to the 64 year old coach.
However, was this about something more? Tony Basilio reported that Barnes wasn’t exactly feeling appreciated by the end of the season. Mike Wilson echoed those thoughts. Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer even used the words valued and appreciated in his statement on Monday night.
“Tennessee made it very clear to me what the basketball program has meant to the university, and while they know this game can be up and down, they also made it clear that they wanted me to be the coach here and were willing to give me everything we need to sustain it,” Barnes said. “My goal is to make it even better, and I can never thank them enough for the way they handled everything.”
There does seem like there was something more to all this than it simply being the “allure of UCLA.” Regardless, if there was, Fulmer and company clearly stepped up to the plate and squashed any remaining doubts.