UPDATE:Tennessee has announced its hiring of Rick Barnes. Original post text below.
Yesterday, ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported that Tennessee was closing in on hiring former Texas head coach Rick Barnes as its new head basketball coach. Not long after, Jerry Meyer of the 247sports Tennessee site echoed the report.
Basically unless there is some kind of major smoke screen going on or there is a last-minutes falling out, Barnes is likely to be the new head coach in Knoxville. What would Big Orange be getting with him?
First things first, Tennessee would be getting a winner. Barnes has 29 years as a head coach under his belt from stints with George Mason (one season), Providence (six), Clemson (four), and Texas (17). He finished with a winning record in all but two of those seasons, and his career record is 604-314 (.658).
With 402 victories, Barnes is the winningest coach in Texas history. He is responsible for half of the program's 32 NCAA Tournament appearances, half of its ten Sweet 16 appearances, three of its seven Elite Eight appearances, and one of its three Final Four appearances.
Despite being a good recruiter who was able to land some big prospects, most notably Kevin Durant among plenty of others, Barnes has never been in hot water with the NCAA. Given recent history in Knoxville, that factor is a significant plus.
What Tennessee would not be getting is a truly long-term solution. Barnes will be 61 by the time next season tips off, so he probably doesn't have more than about another decade of coaching left in him. Again though, looking at recent history for Tennessee, a decade of solid work would be an improvement. Barnes lasted 17 years in Austin, and while some impatient fans may be happy to see him go, no one in the administration is cheering that he's gone.
It's worth noting why Barnes is gone here, too. He didn't wear out his welcome. It's more that things went stale. After setting a high bar that included two Sweet 16 runs, two Elite Eight runs, and a Final Four run in a seven-year period, he hasn't made it past the first weekend of the tournament in the past seven seasons. Two seasons ago, he also logged one of his two losing overall records. Texas was still willing to keep him if he made changes. Ultimately, he's out of Austin in large part because he chose not to keep the job at the expense of his assistants.
Tennessee hiring Barnes now would not be terribly dissimilar to a hypothetical football program hiring Mack Brown right after Texas pushed him out or Phil Fulmer right after the Vols pushed him out. Barnes is a few years older than Fulmer was at his tenure's end, but he's very close in age to where Brown was when he finished in Austin. Barnes is something of a retread whose best days are probably in his past and whose performance has declined in recent years.
There's no reason to think that Barnes will do something in Knoxville like win a national title that he didn't do at Texas. I don't think that's what Tennessee is looking for in this hire, though. The promise of Rick Barnes is 20 wins a year more often than not, going to the NCAA Tournament nearly every season, and relatively low drama save the angsty ramblings of the impatient sector of the fan base. Given the past half decade's tumult in the men's revenue sports, I think most Volunteers would take that in a heartbeat.
Barnes is not Butch Jones. He's not an up-and-comer with promise. Men's basketball doesn't drive the bus for Big Orange, though, and merely getting a steady hand to guide things for a while is probably good enough for this hire. If Barnes works the sidelines for, say, 12 years and makes the NCAA Tournament in ten of them, then the program's number of all-time Big Dance appearances will have gone up by 50%. If he makes just two Sweet 16 appearances in there, then the program's 64-team tournament-era appearance count in that round will go up by 40%.
Barnes is a low-risk pick who promises more than low rewards. Right now, that'll do.