Rick Barnes insists he no longer reads the papers, watches highlight shows or pays any attention to chatter about his basketball team. He only asks his media relations director at the University of Texas to inform on what he absolutely needs to know before he does interviews.
Who knows if he is actually telling the truth, because it is rather difficult as a human to ignore what people are saying about you. Maybe after all of these years Barnes is actually able to do just that and ignore those calling for his head, because they are doing it again.
Rather than finally dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 standings, Texas is winning the “Most Disappointing” trophy this season. The Longhorns are 17-10 overall and 6-8 in the conference. Their next three games are against ranked opponents. They have a minimum of five games remaining before the NCAA’s announces the tournament bracket, which could finally determine Barnes’ fate in Austin.
“I am not going to allow myself to change the way I do things based on other people’s opinions,” Barnes said recently when I asked him about “being fired” routinely by others. “When my time is up here, God has a plan for me. I’m going to do my job one day at a time.”
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Good idea, but the Texas Basketball Protection Plan that he has enjoyed does have an expiration date.
The best thing about coaching basketball in Texas is often the worst. Despite its immense international popularity, basketball is not football in Texas. No one cares quite as much if the team does not win. As a result, the basketball coach can have a high standard of living while doing what he loves without some of the headaches of the football coach. But Barnes makes over $2 million a year to coach basketball in Austin. That’s a good gig.
Yet when the basketball team does win, he knows his sport is still second to spring football.
Barnes has been in Austin since 1998, reached one Final Four, 15 NCAA tourneys, produced a slew of a good pros from T.J. Ford to Kevin Durant, but the disappointment is finally catching him. And unlike before he is working for a boss - UT AD Steve Patterson - who does not have the long relationship that DeLoss Doss did.
Like many coaches, Barnes is a victim of his own success and expectations that created. Texas basketball is relevant because of this man, and he has enjoyed the protection this state offers a Division I men’s basketball coach because of his record and the fact we don’t care as much about his sport.
Eventually, most coaches get got and Barnes has been flirting with this for a while because of the perception that he can’t coach offense. For a man who was won nearly 400 games at Texas and more than 600 in his career, that’s a tough sell but the “big tourney wins” are lacking.
A potential replacement may not come close to his many achievements in Austin, but Barnes is falling into that window when fans are simply tired of him and want somebody else.
Since our memories no longer last any more than 15 minutes, Barnes needs a late run unlike ever before to extend the warranty on a protection plan that looks to be expiring.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760