The Annual "Rick Barnes Forest For The Trees" Assessment

I'm still too hurt and angry to talk about this much just yet, but in the meantime DreadOne has presented a fair overview of the debate. You know where I stand on this, but that doesn't make me any less disappointed in what we saw yesterday, especially in the first half. Talk it out in the comments. --PB--

Last year, I think I'd finally soured on Rick Barnes' coaching abilities.  I'd stated as much here on these pages.  This year, I thought I I'd seen some improvement from the coach early on although I still saw some of the same weaknesses I'd always griped about (e.g., lack of in-game adjustments, poor offensive identity and flow, free throws, etc). 

I got excited when we beat Kansas thinking that perhaps Rick had taken us to another level of basketball that perhaps we'd only approached when T.J. Ford led us to the Final Four.  I sit here today feeling that I was wrong about that.  We can say what we want but we're left with the same result.  Going home.


 Winning the NCAA Tournament is difficult.  I will grant you that.  Anyone can pretty much have an off day and be out of it in a snap.  It took Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams years to finally win it.  I think that the issue comes to play however that great teams have the ability to overcome those bad performances (and the bad officiating).  I don't want to gripe about bad officiating or how the lights were too dim or too bright or that perhaps that the ball wasn't properly inflated.  Those are just excuses.  Duke found a way to win yesterday.  So did UNC and Butler on Saturday.  Ohio State crushed George Mason.  UConn was destined to be one-and-done and yet they caught fire in the Big East Tournament because guys not named "Kemba" started to contribute in their complementary roles (many underclassmen, mind you).

So, I am left here to ask myself yet again if the Rick Barnes-Texas Basketball marriage will produce a championship.  The answer is "I don't know".  Rick does many things that I like:  He runs what is considered a clean program.  He recruits well.  I think he does care about the kids that play for him.  His teams make the tournament consistently.  There are teams that are usually locks to make it to weekend #2 during the tournament (e.g., Duke).  We aren't one of those teams despite having what I am told are elite recruiting classes year after year.  At what point do we ask ourselves if this chemistry between coach and team will get us anywhere?

I hear frequently that we're "a football school" and that we are just happy to be "kind of good" at basketball.  I don't buy that.  I think that fans at large state universities don't want a trophy just for showing up (like kids get nowadays for playing soccer in second grade).  We don't show up to tournaments content that we simply made it.  We want to be competitive and we want to show pride. 

I worry frequently that I am simply down on the coach much like people were down on Mack Brown before he won a championship.  The fact is though that Mack Brown was at least consistent in his post-season appearances.   Rick Barnes' teams have never won the Big 12 Tournament.  He simply hasn't been impressive as a post-season coach.  I want to give him the benefit of the I decided to delve a little deeper into some records of other coaches and see how Rick compares.

  • Coach A- 9 NCAA appearances, 5 beyond second round, 3 Final Fours, No championships
  • Coach B- 4 NCAA apearances, 2 beyond second round, 1 Final Four, No championships
  • Coach C- 8 NCAA appearances, 3 beyond second round, No Final Fours
  • Coach D- 13 NCAA appearances, 5 beyond second round, 1 Final Four, No championships
  • Coach E- 16 NCAA appearances, 11 beyond second round, 3 Final Fours, 2 Championships
  • Coach F- 12 NCAA appearances, 4 beyond second round, No Final Fours
  • Coach G- 21 NCAA appearances, 14 beyond second round, 7 Final Fours, 2 Championships
  • Coach H- 10 NCAA appearances, 3 beyond second round, No Final Fours

There is a little bit of a cross-section here and I did choose them somewhat at random. 

Coach A is someone that I didn't realize had this type of tournament efficiency.  Yes, he's not won a championship but one third of his appearances (his team is still alive this year) have resulted in the Final Four.  That's Ben Howland of UCLA.  Coaches E and G have the most longevity on this list and they make it past the first weekend around 70% of the time.  Coach E is boom or bust it seems beyond that with 2 of 3 Final Fours resulting in a championship; That's Connecticut's Jim Calhoun.  Coach G is UNC's Roy Williams, who couldn't get over the hump until he changed schools.

Coach F is a guy who's always the hotly rumored guy to go to the next big-time opening.  His record is striking to me in it's LACK of progress beyond the first two rounds and a lack of a Final Four.  Similar percentage-wise to Rick Barnes, this is Gonzaga's Mark Few.  Coach C is also someone whose name I've heard thrown around for a move and he's Jamie Dixon of Pitt whos' built himself a strong team this year but bowed out over the weekend.  Coach B is another hot prospect, who IS the hot coach-du-jour.  That's Butler's Brad Stevens.  Remarkable success early in his career and, at least to this observer, it doesn't seem over-hyped.

That leaves us Coach H and with Coach D, who is obviously our own Rick Barnes.  I don't know if we can read any more into his record than we already have.  He seems to carry a reputation for poor in-game management and his teams seem to have limited or no offensive identity.  Offensive identity was never a problem for Coach H and I included him only for my own personal interest.  I won't say that he was a better coach than Rick Barnes but it's an obvious leap to compare him to his predecessor, Tom Penders.  Penders made it to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond 25% of the time compared to Rick Barnes' 38%.  The samples are small so I don't know if any of these statistics can be interpreted with any certainty but those are the facts.    Coach Barnes has given us a 50% improvement in the final result.  Obviously, he was an upgrade in the off-the-court aspects over Penders but I defy anyone to show me where Penders' "Runnin' Horns" weren't fun to watch.  Did Penders get more out of his teams than Barnes gets out of his?  (I am not being rhetorical in this.  I am really asking you.)

The obvious interpretation here is that I don't think Rick Barnes is a good coach and I am not going to answer that except to say that he is what his record implies.  The bigger question though is the same one that I've always applied to Mack Brown (and that Nebraska should have applied to Frank Solich):  "Who are you going to get that's better and for what degree of improvement?".

As you can see, even the good coaches do struggle at times to get deep into the tournament.  The fact is that if we can't identify what Rick Barnes is definitely poor at doing and then find someone who is demonstrably better at that skill than Rick...then I say you can't even consider getting rid of him.

Those are just a few thoughts.  I don't profess to be a basketball expert but I think that the underachievement in this team is maddening when you live in Big East country which is a tremendously over-hyped conference but with strong coaching.  I don't see Rick Barnes as being as strong of a coach as his fans will suggest but I thought yesterday was a better coaching job than I've seen out of him in a long time.  Yes, he's slow to call timeouts when the momentum is slipping away.  Yes, he seems to fuss with the lineups ad nauseam.  Yes, we got hosed by the officiating but the officiating allowed us back into the game too.  Yesterday was not on Rick in my eyes, but the hard question needs to be asked even if just rhetorically.  Texas Athletics is a big forest and we can't lose sight of that forest through for the trees.

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