A war was waging Monday night in college basketball. Two programs were battling for a great prize, one which could alter the landscape of the sport in the coming years.
No, I’m not talking about Virginia taking down Texas Tech in overtime. I’m referencing the bidding war between Tennessee and UCLA over Rick Barnes.
While many were glued to their televisions to see the Cavaliers go from the biggest upset in NCAA history to champions in one year, most local basketball fans were sweating bullets about the future of the Vols.
It seems, for now, Barnes will be back to stabilize the program.
The 64-year-old coach turned down a lucrative offer to take over one of the Blue Blood programs in college hoops to stay in Knoxville and continue his revitalization of a storied school in the South. In three years, Barnes has restored the Vols – turning a down-trodden program into a perennial top 25 team.
At times Monday, it seemed like Barnes would be taking his talents to the West Coast, where he could walk in the footsteps of John Wooden. The Bruins are legendary, with fabled heroes like Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Adbul-Jabbar) once wearing the blue and gold and helping the school win 10 championships in a 12-year period.
Keeping Barnes in Knoxville was a coup for AD Phillip Fulmer, if only to save the school from another coaching search. The last one made a little bit of news.
Although many of the Big Orange brethren were sweating Barnes’ decision, I wasn’t. Maybe it’s because Barnes has been around just three years, or the gut feeling this was a money grab, I didn’t have a feeling of dread about the prospects of his tenure ending.
If anything, I expect more from Barnes now that he’s leveraged his way into a bigger paycheck. NBA departures won’t be a good enough excuse for a step back in wins when he’s likely going to be receiving a top-five coaching salary.
Jordan Bone has already declared for the draft. Two-time SEC player of the year Grant Williams joined him Tuesday, though both could come back next year if their draft grades aren’t up to par. Barnes has to prepare for a future without both juniors and also deal with the departure of Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander.
It won’t be an easy job, but if Barnes is good enough to send the state into a panic Monday, he needs to be good enough to keep winning now that he is recommitted to the Vols.