I am tired of hearing the question, “Should Rick Barnes be fired?”
The North Carolina native rejuvenated a traditionally regional program with overachieving efforts in the early years of his tenure. He raised expectations with the recruits he hooked around the world. People now expect the Longhorns to be yearly visitors to the NCAA Tournament. That was not always the case.
The men’s basketball team used to play second fiddle to the Lady Longhorns because their 1978 NIT Championship banner was always overshadowed by the women’s 1986 National Championship in the Frank Erwin Center rafters.
Things changed with Barnes. He rallied off 13 straight 20-win seasons beginning with the 1999-2000 campaign. Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford and LaMarcus Aldridge made a name for themselves during their time at Texas and later became NBA stars. In total, he has 15 20-win seasons, which ties the program mark through its first 92 seasons.
But the accomplishments don’t stop there. He has led the program to its only two 30-win seasons (2005-2006 and 2007-2008), and a quick two week tour atop the national rankings in January 2010, another first-time accomplishment. He has been on the sideline for 16 of the 32 Longhorn appearances at the NCAA Tournament. He led the Longhorns to their first Final Four appearance since 1947 during the 2002-2003 season, and advanced three teams to the Elite Eight between 2003 and 2008.
You can’t forget the state of the men’s athletic department before Barnes stepped on campus in April 1998. The basketball program had a resurgence during the Tom Penders’ decade and advanced to the Big Dance eight times, but things turned sour during Penders’ final season. He lost the locker room during the losing season and was accused of lying about a player’s academic eligibility in the final month on the job. With the rocky conclusion to Penders’ tenure, it makes sense that the successor Barnes surpassed Penders’ 208 wins, a program-record at the time, in only 9 seasons.
It was not the only move that flipped the men’s athletic department upside down, but the hires that followed drastically changed the fortunes ahead. Barnes was a part of the coaching class that filled coaching and managerial seats for the school’s top three sports between 1997 and 1998. Augie Garrido, Mack Brown, and Barnes did a lot of winning during their 15 years together and raised the university’s athletic productivity to a national degree.
Barnes has yet to win a national championship like Brown and Garrido, but his winning mentality changed the program’s perception. The student body and fan base should get excited when each season comes around. They should dream about national championships and Big 12 Tournament championships, because this program can make it a reality. You can thank Barnes for 402 wins over the last 17 seasons and the fact that the Longhorns are now nationally relevant. If you think you want Rick Barnes out of Austin, you need to step back and remember what life for UT hoops was like before Barnes. It just might change your perception.
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