Readers who become editorial supervisors when the pot gets hot are telling me what to tell Rick Barnes.
“You burned the bridge, old buddy.”
“Let him go. I’ll help him pack.”
“It’s all about the money. When is enough enough?”
Phillip Fulmer and I see it differently. Rick Barnes did nothing wrong. He didn’t elect himself coach of the year. He did not call UCLA about the job opening. The coach heard $5 million plus assorted perks and air filters. If he is worth that much in Los Angeles, he figured maybe he is worth almost that much in beautiful East Tennessee.
Barnes has no agent. He speaks for himself. He had to be tactful but firm. UCLA was not an illogical possibility. It still sounds good. It is an easier job in a softer league. Rick didn’t really want to go, but he could. Nice blue shirts and ties are on sale.
Fulmer demonstrated executive leadership. Give me a minute to give this some thought. He asked his boss about renegotiating Barnes’ contract. Randy Boyd, smart businessman in the big chair at the University of Tennessee (for a change), said do what you have to do.
Up went the basketball budget. The pay pool for assistant coaches is now enough for Barnes to hire who he wants. The fun part was Knoxville businesses throwing in free burgers, free pizza and free cinnamon rolls for life.
No doubt that sealed the deal.
Barnes will never go hungry, but he does have one remaining problem. To whom much is given, much is expected – or even demanded. Just win the games, Rick. It would be really good to find a better big man.
Rick Barnes actually belongs at Tennessee. He fits. This is near enough to home. His values match those of many of the people in this region. He is fundamentally sound. He does not do smoke and mirrors. He develops players. He is a genuine role model; he walks the talk.
He is appreciated by paying customers. He is respected in the coaching fraternity, Penny Hardaway be damned. I think Barnes should be more assertive when officials botch calls, but he continues as a nice guy, win or lose.
It would have been a harsh blow to the Volunteers if Barnes had gone away. Can’t you just hear the battle cry, “Bring back Bruce,” no matter the price?
Recruiting would have taken a hit. A lot of foundation work would have been lost. A real coaching search might have been half as expensive as Barnes’ raise.
Keeping Barnes, maintaining happiness, was the correct decision. Fulmer can worry about what to do if Jeremy Pruitt feels slighted.
(Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org).