My previous article evaluated University of Texas football Coach Mack Brown. I concluded that UT overpays him, does not demand enough in return and that a culture change is needed. I struggled with that decision mainly because UT football generates millions in donations that support athletics and academics, so it is a very serious issue. As state funding continues to shrink, UT’s tier one academic status is dependent upon donations.
Basketball on the other hand supports itself (at best) and no other programs, so the stakes are not as high.
Rick Barnes first season at Texas was 1998. It was magical. He inherited a mess and turned lemons into lemonade by winning the conference regular season championship with only seven scholarship players. The latter part of that season was one of the most exciting runs I have ever witnessed. He has since won two more regular season championships, has been to the Final Four and regularly takes his team to the NCAA tournament. He has been Big 12 coach of the year three times. His 2010 team was at one point rated number one in the nation, a first for football crazy UT.
But that team had a meltdown and by season’s end was an uncharacteristically poor team raising yellow flags, especially with the emergence of new basketball powers in the Big 12 such as Baylor and Kansas State. Was the Barnes magic evaporating? Barnes has taken UT basketball from mediocre to competitive. But is he capable of winning an NCAA championship? Has his offensive scheme proved boring and easy to defend? Well for sure it is boring. And apparently it is easy to defend too.
An additional negative is that he has never won the Big 12 post-season tournament. Since 1998 when Barnes arrived in Austin, Kansas has won 9 regular season championships and 6 tournament championships. UT is far from being competitive with the gold standard of Big 12 roundball. This is the deciding factor for me and should be for UT as well.
Barnes is the eighth highest paid coach at $2 million per year, has the some of the best facilities in the nation, resides in a hotbed of talent and has reasonably good fan support. In fact Barnes makes only slightly less than Roy Williams who has won two NCAA championships at North Carolina. All things considered Barnes has under-performed and should be replaced. If not, UT basketball will continue to be competitive but not elite.
Barnes did a major mea-culpa at season’s end last year, took all the blame himself and is putting forth extraordinary effort to change his offense and make the team elite. See Scipio Tex’s article. I give Barnes credit and admire him for that. Unlike Mack Brown who says his players underperform because they feel entitled when actually it is the overpaid and pampered football coaching staff that exhibits characteristics of entitlement as well as cronyism.
So what do we conclude from all this? Will the changes result in an NCAA championship? Will they even result in a Big 12 championship? Will UT compete with Kansas? It’s impossible to predict, but I must admit I am impressed with this year’s team, especially freshman Tristan Thompson. And the offense does seem to be improved. The absence of a post man limits the Horns but this team is taller than most of Barnes’ previous teams. This is a team that, if it stays healthy, could go deep into the NCAA tournament.
An ongoing concern about Barnes is that he works the kids so hard in practice that by season’s end the fun is gone. Is this a lesson he has learned? I do not think so from reading Scipio Tex’s article.
In my opinion, Barnes should be given two more years. In football, the expectation is that the coach will win a national championship every few years. There is no similar expectation in basketball. Quite simply, UT needs to set the bar for basketball as high as it is for football no matter who the coach is. They have not done that in the past. They run the very real risk of being viewed as a country club for coaches, which will eventually impact the charitable contributions that UT is dependent upon to maintain their top tier status as an academic institution.