Rick Barnes Must Be Relieved

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Since 2003, the only thing separating Rick Barnes from universal Big 12 ridicule has been Scott Drew, the Joel Osteen of college basketball coaches.

Were it not for Drew and his Baylor-Gonna-Baylor oeuvre, the generally likable Barnes may not have made it to year 17, after which he was run off with a .691 winning percentage, three conference championships and a Final Four appearance.

It is a resume anybody this side of Bill Self would happily frame on the wall of their den. I suspect Barnes (rightfully) considers himself a great success.

He was undone by the “coach that does the least with the most” tag. That is not a happy thing to be, but does seem to come with a longer shelf-life than the “good coach, can’t recruit” stamp that returns the likes of Doc Sadler to clipboard duty with swift and enthusiastic abandon. Recruiting equals hope. The next Kevin Durant is always just around the corner.

Oh yes, Durant. The Durant Team, 2007. You can’t toss a guy who just got done having the best college basketball player since … Bias? Laettner? But that season, the Durant Season, was the beginning of the end. With Kevin Durant, plus Damion James and … oh, who cares … Texas finished third in the Big 12 and finished the season with a blowout loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Until then, things looked pretty good. UT had won the Big 12 and gone to the Elite Eight the year before, had been to the Final Four three years before that, and had made the tournament eight years in a row. The Texas basketball program, which in the 90s had been … not the Texas football program … was building a reputation. It was That Which Could Take Down Kansas, and three times it did (sort of). Barnes won the conference outright in 1999 and shared it with the Jayhawks in 2006 and 2008. Barnes posted Top 10 recruiting classes in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011, forever rebooting this-is-the-year anticipations.

But something spooky was happening at Texas during those years. Some nebulous malaise that infected everything, including the football team, whose head coach got stuck with the same can’t-coach-’em-up tag Barnes did, and who settled for the same dignified exit — a “resignation” with a press conference and thank-yous and the whole shoo-bang.

There must be some relief in it for Barnes. Five or so years ago he had started looking sickly and gaunt, but more recently the color returned to his face, his cheeks filled back in a little. Two years ago, having rid himself of a roster full of AAU superstars, he spoke excitedly about being able to coach defense again, presumably because it was that roster’s only hope.But it didn’t work. That team finished with a losing record, the football coach resigned nine months later, and you could see Texas running out the clock on Barnes.

Sunday, the AD thanked him for his services and Barnes thanked his players, coaches and staff.

“I leave this job with no regrets,” he said.

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