The longest tenured and winningest basketball coach in Big 12 history, Rick Barnes, is out at Texas, according to several media outlets, including the Austin American-Statesman.
At hand is perhaps the most fascinating coaching search this season.
Texas is attractive in ways others aren’t. It might be the most attractive non-blue blood job in college basketball.
The program doesn’t have the tradition or fan support of Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina or Duke. And football will always be first in Austin.
But Texas has the richest athletic budget of any college sports’ athletic budget. Money won’t be the issue in a contract negotiation.
Nor will facilities or a recruiting base. There’s plenty of talent in Texas, and the Longhorns scored top national recruits like Kevin Durant, in the Barnes’ era.
The early list of potential replacements will begin with the game’s hottest names: Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and VCU’s Shaka Smart.
But second year athletic director Steve Patterson is a former NBA executive — he was general manager with the Portland Trail Blazers. His circle of candidates figures to be wide.
Marshall should be on top of any school’s list. He reportedly is the top target for Alabama. And Tennessee just opened.
Marshall has indicated he’s happy at Wichita State and has made one coaching move in 17 years, from Winthrop in 2007.
He spoke this week of having an ideal working relationship with his athletic director, and without football at Wichita State, he is unequivocally the school’s top figure. That wouldn’t be the case at Texas or an SEC school.
But is it coincidence that the Texas news started to leak less than two days after the Shockers were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament? The Longhorns’ season had been over for more than a week.
At the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City earlier this month, Barnes was asked if he felt his job was safe. “Why not,” he said. “I got my contract extended a year ago.”
To the 2019 season. He made $2.5 million annually and the deal includes a $1.75 million buyout.
When Texas makes the Barnes move official, the Big 12 will lose one of its most successful coaches. Barnes had served at George Mason, Providence and Clemson before he was hired to replace Tom Penders for the 1998-99 season and promptly won a Big 12 championship.
His 2003 team, led by point guard T.J. Ford, went to the Final Four. The 2006 Longhorns with LaMarcus Aldridge, reached the Elite Eight, as did the 2008 team with D.J. Augustin.
The Durant season (2006-07) may have been the program’s most memorable. The Longhorns finished third in the Big 12, but Durant had an amazing season and swept the national player of the year awards.
Barnes’ teams won or shared three Big 12 championships and reached the Big 12 Tournament title game six times, losing them all.
In 17 seasons, Barnes compiled records of 402-180 overall and 186-94 in Big 12 games, both topping career lists among conference coaches.
But the numbers dipped in the final four years. From 1998-2011, Texas’ average record was 25-9. Over the final four years it was 20-14.
His teams reached the NCAA Tournament 16 times, an enviable accomplishment. But the Longhorns haven’t been out of the first weekend since 2008, and that’s why the program will be looking for a new coach.
Texas is a great job, in large measure because of the accomplishments of Barnes, who in his final few seasons couldn’t live up to what he had established.