KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Rick Barnes gave his farewell press conference after an unwanted exit from Texas, Rick Barnes predicted he’d be coaching again “quicker than you probably think.”
It turns out Barnes already had a pretty good idea where he’d end up.
Barnes had begun talking to Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart about the Volunteers’ coaching vacancy Saturday, the day before his departure from Texas was announced. His move from one shade of orange to another became official Tuesday when Barnes was introduced as Tennessee’s new men’s basketball coach.
“At that point in time, yes, it was something that had been discussed and it was something I truly wanted to see happen,” Barnes said.
Barnes succeeds Donnie Tyndall, who was fired Friday after going 16-16 in his lone season at Tennessee amid an NCAA investigation into his two-year tenure at Southern Mississippi. Barnes agreed to terms on a six-year contract that will pay him $2.25 million annually.
The 60-year-old Barnes will be Tennessee’s fourth coach in six seasons, and the Volunteers are counting on him to provide stability. Barnes went 402-180 in 17 seasons at Texas, including a Final Four appearance in 2003.
He is 604-314 in 28 seasons overall with stops at George Mason, Providence and Clemson. Barnes has 22 NCAA Tournament appearances — two more than Tennessee has made in its entire history. He has earned NCAA bids 19 of the last 20 seasons.
“We are very, very fortunate today to have hired an elite basketball coach,” Hart said. “That’s what Rick Barnes is. He is definitely an elite coach.”
Hart’s admiration of Barnes was evident in Tennessee’s pursuit of him. Hart said he flew to Austin, Texas, on Sunday and accompanied Barnes on his trip to Knoxville shortly after that farewell press conference.
“From that moment on, we literally have been together around the clock,” Hart said.
And in the end, Tennessee landed a veteran coach who is savoring a new opportunity.
Texas announced Barnes’ departure in a university release that described it as a mutual decision. Barnes made it clear at his farewell news conference that he was fired and that he told Texas athletic director Steve Patterson he wanted to stay. Barnes said he was given the choice of firing his staff or being fired himself.
“I am driven,” Barnes said. “I’ve had one goal in my life and that would be the chance to play for a national championship. This is a university that provides you with everything you need to do that. I realize how hard that is to do… but that’s the standard we’ll set.”
Although Barnes’ only Southeastern Conference experience is a brief stint as an Alabama assistant from 1986-86, he has plenty of familiarity with his new campus and new boss.
Barnes said he was an assistant coach at George Mason in 1987 when he interviewed for a head coaching opportunity at East Carolina, where Hart was working at the time.
“For some reason, he didn’t hire me,” Barnes quipped. “I’m thankful this time that he did.”
Barnes’ ties to Tennessee began much earlier.
He grew up in Hickory, North Carolina, about 200 miles east of Knoxville. He frequently visited Tennessee’s campus in 1974 while dating his wife, Candy, a 1975 Tennessee alum. He recalled watching Condredge Holloway lead Tennessee’s football team to a victory over Tulsa and regularly stopping at an area deli for roast beef sandwiches before heading back to Hickory.
“In some ways, I feel like I’m coming home,” Barnes said.
The Vols are hoping he stays “home” for several years to come, ending the recent revolving-door nature of their coaching position.
Bruce Pearl was fired in 2011 amid an NCAA investigation. Pearl was replaced by Cuonzo Martin, who left for California after three seasons. Tyndall took over for Martin last year.
“We needed badly to have stability, and he will bring us some,” Hart said. “He will bring a level of maturity, a level of success that will serve us very well.”
Barnes has a tough job ahead of him.
Tennessee loses all-SEC guard Josh Richardson to graduation and doesn’t return any proven point guards or post scorers. That could make it tough for him to match the success he produced at Texas, where Barnes fell out of favor despite earning NCAA bids in 16 of his 17 seasons.
Barnes led Texas to the Sweet 16 five times, one Final Four and three trips to the regional finals — but hadn’t advanced the Longhorns beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
“If you told me we were going to 16 of 17 NCAA Tournaments, I would be dancing in the streets,” Hart said. “It’s in the eye of the beholder.”
AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
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