KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes dismisses the notion that switching schools for the first time in nearly two decades has given him a chip on his shoulder or provided any extra incentive.
Barnes, 61, makes his Tennessee debut Friday against UNC Asheville after spending the last 17 seasons at Texas.
"The fact is, I don't feel any different now than I felt the last 10 or 12 years as a head coach," Barnes said. "I know it's our first game coming up here, and I don't take any of them for granted. I just know we still have a lot of teaching and work to do with these guys."
Barnes led Texas to 16 NCAA Tournament berths, including a Final Four appearance in 2003 and regional finals in 2006 and 2008. He owns 604 career wins in 28 seasons overall, with stops at George Mason, Providence and Clemson before his Texas tenure. His teams have earned NCAA bids 19 of the last 20 seasons.
Texas fired him in March after a seventh consecutive season in which the Longhorns failed to get as far as a regional semifinal.
"Do I personally think it could have been handled better in light of what I know he did at the University of Texas?" said Tennessee associate head coach Rob Lanier, who held the same position on Barnes' Texas staff. "Absolutely. A lot of other people feel that way - a lot of important people. But he's beyond that. Maybe when he was younger, he'd have a chip on his shoulder right now about that. I don't think he's caught up in that stuff one bit."
Barnes can't afford to look back, considering the situation he faces right now as Tennessee's third head coach in as many seasons. Barnes replaces Donnie Tyndall, who was fired in March amid an NCAA investigation into his two-year tenure at Southern Mississippi.
Tennessee must replace leading scorer Josh Richardson, who earned first-team all-Southeastern Conference honors his senior season. Barnes said Wednesday he remained unsure of his starting lineup for Friday's opener.
Barnes' biggest concern is the Vols' lack of size. During a 96-83 exhibition victory over Alabama-Huntsville last week, Tennessee had only one starter taller than 6-foot-4 and no starters taller than 6-7.
"You're always on edge as a coach, and that's what you want your players to be," Barnes said. "You want them to be on edge, and you're always trying to think of ways to get better. I know right now as a coaching staff, we've got to do a better job of making these guys understand that we have to defend our basket. We can score. I don't think there's any question (about that)."
Barnes says he's become more patient over the years. That trait has come in handy during the preseason, whether he's helping senior guard Kevin Punter adjust his shooting stroke or teaching senior forward Derek Reese how to become a better post defender.
Tennessee's players are willing to absorb whatever Barnes teaches them. They're aware that he has coached 24 NBA draft picks, including perennial all-stars Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge.
"I was very excited when I found out we were getting him because Kevin Durant's one of my favorite players, but it's not just that," Reese said. "I can ask (Barnes) so many questions about these great players to try to gain any type of experience I can get to help me be a better player."
As he begins this new chapter of his coaching career, Barnes is reaching out to the program's past. Before each home game, Tennessee players will run through a giant metal "T'' when they take the court, a routine that started with a wooden "T'' under former coach Ray Mears in the 1960s and continued into Buzz Peterson's tenure in the early 2000s.
"That old one was thrown away, I think, just a couple weeks ago," Barnes said. "But we're going to bring back another one."
The Vols hope he also brings back stability - a trait that's been missing from this program the last few years.