UCLA’s search for a men’s basketball coach will trudge on toward its 100th day. Rick Barnes is staying at Tennessee.
“The last few days have been interesting, to say the least,” Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said Monday in a statement after Barnes had reportedly been offered a five-year contract from the Bruins. “One of the nation’s most tradition-rich college basketball programs identified what we here at Tennessee already knew — that Rick Barnes is one the game’s elite coaches and a program-changer.
“The University of Tennessee and East Tennessee as a whole have developed an enhanced love and appreciation for our men's basketball program and its culture under Rick’s leadership, and I’m thrilled that he will remain a part of our Tennessee Athletics family.”
Barnes became UCLA’s front-runner in the search after officials failed to land Texas Christian’s Jamie Dixon because they were unwilling to satisfy the terms of his $8-million contract buyout.
The Bruins will now have to reassess their options after initially wanting to have a coach in place by this week.
Meanwhile, Barnes will resume his efforts to make Tennessee a national championship contender. He already had transformed the Volunteers into one of the nation’s top teams last season, earning him the Naismith Award as national coach of the year. Tennessee tied a school record with 31 victories in Barnes’ fourth season at the school and reached an NCAA tournament regional semifinal before losing to Purdue.
Barnes, 64, is highly respected within the coaching fraternity but already is as old as legendary UCLA coach John Wooden was when he retired in 1975.
Barnes is facing some major retooling with the Volunteers. Starters Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander exhausted their eligibility, and point guard Jordan Bone announced his intention to enter the NBA draft. Two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year Grant Williams also was believed to be leaning heavily toward going pro.
The Volunteers’ incoming freshman class does include five-star prospect Josiah-Jordan James, a 6-foot-6 forward.
Barnes has a 692-364 record in 32 seasons, taking Texas to the Final Four in 2003 and making two other appearances in a regional final during his 17 seasons with the Longhorns. He has coached national players of the year T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant, as well as seven-time NBA All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.
Texas fired Barnes in 2015 after seven consecutive seasons of not reaching the NCAA tournament’s second weekend, but he was quickly hired by Tennessee. He has increased his victory total in each of his seasons with the Volunteers, who were ranked atop the Associated Press poll for four weeks this season. Tennessee tied Auburn for the SEC’s regular-season title last season before tying Kentucky for second place in the conference this season.
Barnes was paid $3.25 million this season, according to USA Today’s salary database, after agreeing to a contract extension that included $100,000 annual raises. His new contract gave him the second-biggest salary in the SEC, trailing only Kentucky coach John Calipari’s $9.2 million.
Long before Barnes resisted their overtures, the Bruins had struck out with a bevy of more high-profile coaches who expressed no interest in the job, were eliminated by the school’s background checks or declined to be interviewed until after the Final Four.