It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that Tennessee turned to Rick Barnes, fresh off of his firing at Texas. The Volunteers were coming out of the Donnie Tyndall year, desperate to find some stability.
Seven years and 137 wins later, he’s set to lead his Volunteers in Austin against his former team.
No. 18 Tennessee will face Texas (15-5) on Saturday night as a part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Chris Beard is now the head coach of the Longhorns, taking over for Shaka Smart, who took over for Barnes back in 2015.
“You guys might not believe this, but I really haven’t thought about it,” Barnes said after the Florida win on Wednesday. “I’ve always been able to stay locked in to what we’re doing right here. But starting tomorrow I do know I have to talk to a couple of old buddies of mine there. I can tell you what I told the fans back there, I have incredible respect for the University of Texas. I spent 17 years there. There’s not a person on that campus that I don’t have great respect for.
“I know Chris Beard, I know there’s going to be a lot of my former players there. They understand me probably more than anybody. They know that I’m not going to let anything get in the way of our preparation to win this game. Will it be different? I don’t know.”
Barnes was fired following the 2014-15 season after several years of early NCAA Tournament exits. After making the Elite Eight in 2008, Barnes failed to get past the second round in his next six tournament appearances. The program had grown a bit stale, and both sides were ready for a change in scenery.
Tennessee came calling, and Barnes took on a rebuild at age 60. What some called a retirement gig quickly grew into something more. Barnes had Tennessee ranked No. 1 in the country just four seasons later.
“I’m seven years removed — I’m a Tennessee Volunteer, I really am,” Barnes said. “Texas is a big part of me, and always will be. But I’ve been gone seven years. And this is the last year of the Erwin Center, and I coached in there for 17 years. I have a lot of fond memories of it.
“If you think about it, we’re up on everyone in the league. They’re going to be in our league in the next year or two, whenever it might happen. So it will be a trip every other year. We’re doing it, and I think it’s the right thing for our program. It’s part of the challenge, and it’s a basketball game that we have to get prepared for. They had a big win last night, I do know that. On the road, and it’s hard to win on the road anywhere. They had a very convincing win against TCU, so I’m sure they’re feeling good. We’re going to have to play better than we did (against Florida), I will tell you that.”
Tennessee and Texas will tip-off in Austin at 8 p.m. ET, live on ESPN.