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Official: Rick Barnes turns down UCLA, will stay at Tennessee

Tennessee avoids disaster.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Following 24 hours of pure panic, Tennessee fans can officially breathe easy — Rick Barnes is staying put according to Chris Low.

The UCLA Bruins came calling for Barnes over the weekend, looking to put an end to their prolonged search for a Steve Alford replacement. UCLA took a big swing, but once again appears to have struck out.

Why would Barnes even entertain leaving Knoxville? That’s the question we’re all left to ponder.

Barnes is 64 years old. His program is built — and rolling.

After taking the program over at a low point, Barnes went 15-19 and 16-16 in his first two seasons at Tennessee. However, his core group grew up over the next offseason. Admiral Schofield transformed himself into a leader and consistent scorer. Grant Williams became an absolute star. The light started to come on for Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, Kyle Alexander and Jordan Bowden.

Tennessee went from being picked to finish 13th in the SEC to winning the SEC regular season title in the next season. The Vols earned a No. 3 seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. They returned just about everyone for the following season.

Barnes led the Vols to a 31-6 record, earning a No. 2 seed in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. His team reached the top spot in the AP Poll for the second time in school history, holding their place for four consecutive weeks. Despite Tennessee’s exit in the Sweet 16, Barnes took home Naismith Coach of the Year honors.

Looking ahead, five-star guard Josiah James will join the roster next season and Barnes has already secured a verbal commitment from five-star 2020 wing Corey Walker. If Bone and Williams return, Tennessee will go right back to being a national contender next season.

To summarize — the program is in a really good spot. But the allure of the UCLA job still had Barnes interested.

Ultimately, Barnes decided to keep building on what he started. Tennessee can now move forward and potentially field another top ten level team in 2019-20. It was an uncomfortable day in Knoxville, but thankfully, the program remains in tact.

This is a massive win for Phillip Fulmer, who couldn’t afford to lose control of his most stable program. His statement can be found here.