Randy Smith: Barnes Is Just What Tennessee Needed

Friday, March 16, 2018 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

This Tennessee mens' basketball team has been more than just a pleasant surprise to the Big Orange Nation. It has provided a much needed escape from the reality of just how badly the Vols' football program has performed in the last few seasons. Tennessee fans have had womens' basketball and softball as the only two sports recently that has competed admirably for SEC titles, and fans have been screaming for Holly Warlick's head for the past two seasons. That's just how bad it had gotten.

When then athletic director Dave Hart hired Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes to be the Vols new head basketball coach, the hiring was really not given a lot of fanfare. Barnes had already proven to be a highly successful head coach; one of the winningest coaches in the game.

A lot of Tennessee fans looked at the hire as being someone to fill the gap, coach a few years then retire; an end of the rainbow coaching spot if you will. In other words, they looked at Barnes as a really nice guy who would likely take the money and coast into retirement. After the first two seasons and no post-season appearances, it appeared those fans were correct. In the pre-season, the Vols were picked to finish 13th out of the 14 SEC teams. When discussing the situation with a few of those fans, one replied, " They'll give him another year, then he'll go to the house and count his money." 

That wasn't really the scenario that Rick Barnes was buying into. The Vols started the season on a hot streak and they really haven't cooled off at all. They finished the regular season as SEC co-champs with Auburn, advanced to the SEC Tournament finals before losing to Kentucky, and then blistered Wright State 73=47 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. Tennessee is now 26-8 on the year heading into their second round game on Saturday with Loyola of Chicago in Dallas, Texas. It's kind of ironic that Rick Barnes' team is playing in the Long-horn state as one of the best teams in the country after he and Texas mutually parted ways following the 2015 season. 

In addition to the SEC Coach of the Year award Barnes has already taken home, he may be the leading candidate for national Coach of the Year as well. He is certainly one of the most respected coaches in all of college basketball, especially by his peers. The 2018 Vols are his 23rd NCAA Tournament team. He has already taken teams to the Final Four and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament and this year's group has a real shot at making the Sweet 16 or even better. 

So, as we sit back and watch the Vols face Loyola on Saturday, Tennessee fans should be thankful that Rick Barnes is their basketball coach. He has not only stabilized the program, but he made his Vols a relevant power in college basketball. With the team losing only one player, senior guard James Daniel III, I would imagine they will be picked much higher in next years SEC pre-season polls.  After all, what do we in the media know about college basketball anyway?  

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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com

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