The Big Mac Blog

Texas’ basketball problem goes far beyond Rick Barnes

Texas men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes was fired after 17 seasons in Austin.
Texas men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes was fired after 17 seasons in Austin. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Blame Charlie Strong for the recent firing of Rick Barnes.

Had the Texas football program won 10 games in Strong’s first season as the head football coach at the University of Texas-Austin, no one would have cared so much that Barnes’ basketball ‘Horns had another NCAA first round flameout. That is part of Texas Basketball Protection Plan - it is run by football, as is everything else in the great state a Texas. It provides a wonderful shield for basketball coaches when times are bad. When football is bad, however, everything else is bad, too.

After 17 successful seasons in Austin, Barnes was fired by Texas director of athletics Steve Patterson over the weekend. Barnes is a big reason why Texas basketball took such large step forward in terms of national relevance, but ultimately remains going sideways. Until a coach can convince about five or six talented players over and over that basketball matters as much as football in this state, attaining the top spot will remain a fruitless task.

The top candidates to replace Barnes include VCU’s Shaka Smart, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, and for some dumb reason former Dallas Mavericks and Nets coach Avery Johnson. Marshall is the catch, and this may be the job he has been waiting for to leave Wichita. UT is a Brinks’ load of money, and there is talent, but he will still need to change the culture, which may beyond his realm of power.

Whomever replaces Barnes’ at UT will have the task of replacing former Euless Trinity stud forward Myles Turner, who declared this morning his intentions to enter the NBA Draft. Myles is a wonderful kid, with great parents, and the portrait of what is wrong with college basketball. He never wanted to go to school. The NCAA and the NBA must figure out a new alternative to the one-and-done that is killing whatever speck of credibility remains with college basketball ... but that’s a different rant.

It’s not for a lack of money or resources, and God knows there are players a plenty in Texas, but simply a matter of culture. Basketball remains something to do between football seasons. Even baseball, for that matter, is bigger despite its presence as a non-revenue sport in college athletics.

No team in Texas has won a men’s basketball national title since Texas-Western changed the world in 1966. Houston reached the title games in 1983 and ‘84; the Cougars should have won the title in ‘83 but ... fate had a say in that outcome.

Since Phi Slamma Jamma’s run led by Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and head coach Guy Lewis, the only other Texas team to reach a Final Four was Barnes’ bunch in 2003, which lost to eventual champion Syracuse in the national semis.

Barnes had some success in recruiting top talent, most notably T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant, and Baylor’s Scott Drew has had solid recruiting classes, but as long as this state remains so easily penetrated by programs out of the borders, sustaining championship-caliber teams will remain a major problem.

As San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who as the head coach at Michigan took two players out of Texas to comprise the Fab Five, once told me the reason why so many other schools raid this state is “One word - Football.”

Football runs Florida, but U of F coach Billy Donovan proved the highest level can be reached. He’s won national titles, and turned the program into a national power.

Barnes proved he could recruit top talent to Austin, but he was never able to reach the same level as Donovan.

Whomever replaces Barnes will have every toy and resources a college coach could want, but he will also have to overcome the idea that basketball is just a diversion to football.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof