Rick Barnes’ return to Austin recalls Texas stagnation since leaving

Rick Barnes has already taken a trip to Austin in the last 12 months.

His appearance on Saturday seems to be much more emotional. The Tennessee men’s basketball coach is bringing his team to Austin to take on Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

For the first time since being fired in 2015, Barnes will enter the Erwin Center as a visitor. A nearly sold-out crowd is expected to greet the late Barnes.

On Friday, Barnes recalled a trip to Austin last spring. While driving and watching the changes on campus, he called former player and assistant coach Chris Ogden, now a staff member for Chris Beard in Texas. He invited Barnes to stop by the workout gym next to the Erwin Center and hang out.

“When I go to the set and walk down the ramp to head towards the Erwin center, it’ll probably hit me harder, I guess,” Barnes said. “I have so many fond memories of Austin, but we just played a basketball game…

“I loved my stay there. There were people who were part of my life. »

Barnes’ return resonates with those in and around the program. He has already heard from former players and colleagues this week.

He took Texas to 16 NCAA tournaments in 17 seasons from 1998 to 2015, including three regional finals and a Final Four in 2003. He recruited future All-Americans TJ Ford, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge and won three championship titles. Big 12.

“I’m just a little person in the whole operation here,” Beard said, “but my personal opinion is [Barnes] didn’t get the Texas exit he deserved. So we welcome this game. I can’t wait to see the coach and thank him for everything he’s done for Texas basketball.

By 2015, the program had plateaued and fan enthusiasm had waned. After an Elite Eight run in 2008, Texas never made it past the first weekend of the tournament. New sporting director Steve Patterson fired Barnes.

Barnes acknowledged Friday that he spoke with Tennessee even before the sacking, fearing the worst, citing the firing of football coach Mack Brown by Patterson.

“I knew what he had been through and how he had been misled about certain things,” Barnes said. “Obviously I didn’t have a good relationship with Steve Patterson.”

Patterson had publicly called on Barnes to fire his staff if he wanted to stay. He left his farewell press conference and immediately flew to Knoxville.

“This conversation had started before because of the level of trust [at Texas] at the time,” Barnes said. “I was told one thing one day, another the next and back and forth. It was pretty clear what was going to happen.

This is also the last season for the Erwin Center, where Barnes has coached his entire tenure in Texas.

“There are far too many memories in this building,” Barnes said. “I can’t limit myself to one or two.”

Beard met Barnes as an assistant to Bob Knight at Texas Tech.

Ogden, the former UT-Arlington coach, played and coached for Barnes.

“For me, it starts with him just giving me a chance,” Ogden said. “To recruit me, bring me here, and then try my luck as a coach right after playing. And then empowering. It allowed us to be an integral part of the program.

Terry, whom Beard brought back to the program after coaching at Fresno State and UTEP, said Barnes prepared him for the next step.

“When he hired me, he was like, ‘Hey, I’m not hiring you to come and sign players. I’m hiring a guy who wants to come and think like a head coach every day you come to the office. ‘”

Since Barnes’ firing, Texas has not won an NCAA Tournament game.

Shaka Smart, considered a home run rental by Patterson, had a promising first season, lost to Northern Iowa on half court in the NCAA Tournament, went 11-22 in his second season and never really recovered. He left for Marquette after an upset loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Abilene Christian.

Beard was recruited after an excellent five-year run at Texas Tech. He has shown great talent in reaching out to the fan base, gathering elite staff and exploiting the transfer portal. But the Longhorns (15-5) have dropped out of the AP Top 25 this week.

At No. 18 in Tennessee (14-5), Barnes has been good but not great.

In his seventh season, he has three NCAA appearances including a trip to the Sweet 16. Another great team was derailed in the second round at the American Airlines Center in 2018 by Chicago’s Loyola and Sister Jean.

A lot has changed, Barnes acknowledged.

“Will it be different? I don’t know,” Barnes said earlier this week. “I’m seven years apart. I’m a volunteer from Tennessee, I really am. You know what? Texas is a big part of me and always will be. But I’ve been gone for seven years.

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