Texas’ Rick Barnes was asked on the weekly Big 12 men’s basketball coaches teleconference Monday about getting fired.
Typically, those questions bring a quick brush-off response focused around a thought of “I don’t worry about things I can’t control.”
That’s not an unfair answer. But Barnes embraced the topic, which was presented generally. Is there more talk about firing coaches today than in previous years?
Yes, Barnes said. Social media means more voices, in blogs, message boards and video. Fans can be heard and influence coaching stability in ways that didn’t happen even a decade ago.
What Barnes said, in large measure, was a response to those who weigh in with only a surface knowledge.
“I always believed I’m not going to make a judgment on anybody unless I have all the facts,” Barnes said. “To a degree it’s always been there, but more so today.”
Barnes has come under fire this season because the Longhorns have underachieved based on projection. Texas was picked to finish second in the Big 12 behind Kansas.
The Horns ended a four-game losing streak by winning at Kansas State on Saturday, but they started the week in eighth place. One of the losses was by 23 points at Baylor.
Texas started well and climbed to No. 6 in the national rankings but fell out of the polls this week for the first time.
If the season ended today, Texas is likely an NCAA Tournament team, and perhaps the K-State victory will mark a turning point. Barnes, who has taken Texas to the NCAA Tournament in 15 of his 16 seasons, said he’ll keep a deaf ear when it comes to criticism.
Dave Gavitt, the former Big East commissioner and Providence coach, told Barnes when he was a young Friars coach, “if you going to let this stuff bother you, you might as well get out of this profession.
“I’m not going to allow myself change the way I do things based on somebody else’s opinion.”
The athletic director who hired Barnes, DeLoss Dodds, is no longer at Texas. Steve Patterson, the new A.D., gave Barnes a contract extension last August, through 2019.
All coaches catch grief, Barnes said. Even the great Dean Smith, who died last weekend. In 1965, his fourth year at North Carolina, Smith was hung in effigy after his team returned to campus following a 22-point loss at Wake Forest. Star player Billy Cunningham tore it down, saying the players needed to shoulder the blame for the team’s performance, not the coach.
“All you can do is the best you can do, and realize others have a right to voice their opinion,” Barnes said.
Barnes presents a fascinating case of what a program desires to be. So many would sell out for Texas’ NCAA Tournament consistency. But the Longhorns have national championship ambitions and budgets for every sport it sponsors, and Barnes’ program has been to one Final Four, in 2003.
They’ve had the best player in Big 12 history, Kevin Durant, and eight first-round draft picks during 2006-11. After a lull, the program hit recruiting paydirt with Myles Turner and seemed to have enough returning talent to make this one of Barnes’ better seasons. But the Longhorns aren’t strong offensively and are unable to score their way out of trouble.
Texas can do much worse than Barnes. Whenever his tenure in Austin ends, he’ll be remembered as the best coach in the program’s history. But if there’s a sense Texas has hit a ceiling, Patterson could make a change and a portion of the fan base will agree. Until then, Barnes will coach and pay no attention to his critics.