Despite the warning by BJD95 in his “Tin Foil Hat” theory, and despite the fact that every indication suggests the wholly competent Debbie Yow is keeping the usual insiders out of the loop this time around, Saturday’s rumor mill is churning: SFN community member, ‘Strutter’ posted on the forums today that an offer has been made to Texas’ Rick Barnes.
Maybe it’s a smokescreen and there’s no merit to it whatsoever (which is what I happen to believe), but as a charter member of the Lunatic Fringe, I don’t see any harm in getting excited talking about our next coach, especially if it could be Rick Barnes.
The case for Barnes isnâ€™t necessarily quantitative, and it may seem quite mysterious — at the very least, strange — that such a resounding folklore surrounds a guy that didnâ€™t go to State, has never coached at State, and has, at best, only loose connections to State.
As a pragmatist, it bothers me that the numbers â€“- through today he has a career record of 524-256 (.672) and he’s coaching in his 16th consecutive NCAA Tournament and the 19th of his 23 years as a head coach â€“- are peripheral to the idea of Rick Barnes at N.C. State.
Our fascination with Barnes â€“- mine, anyway â€“- stretches back to his first season at Clemson, when he took over a program in shambles and immediately challenged the conferenceâ€™s long-established paradigm. Duke and Carolina might always reign as the ACCâ€™s elite and most-favored, but during his four seasons in the league, Barnes promoted aggressiveness over finesse with the explicit intent of making it hard on them both every time they played Clemson. This endeared him to State fans, so when he went to Texas in 1998, many of us expected his time in Austin would be short and that heâ€™d be back in the ACC â€“-in Raleigh -â€“ after the 2001 season. But those were the early days of Lee Fowlerâ€™s burgeoning ineptitude, so we waited for our next opportunity, which came during the rollercoaster, tail-number-tracking days of early April 2006. But, by then, Fowlerâ€™s utter incompetence reigned supreme, and Barnes remained at Texas.
Yet, somehow, the idea never died, which doesnâ€™t really add up. Besides being a Hickory native, Barnesâ€™ only solid connection to State is that he was an assistant at Davidson under former State star Eddie Biedenbach. So, yeah, it seems downright arrogant for the fans of this once proud, storied program to have built such folklore on the premise that being Head Basketball Coach at North Carolina State University has always been Barnesâ€™ dream job.
Still, many of us know that we were thisclose in 2006, and appreciate that the main roadblock then won’t be a factor in 2011. But five long years have passed, and it’s entirely plausible that Barnes has no interest this time around; and even if he does, it’s not a done deal.
Considering Barnes is currently one of college basketballâ€™s highest-paid coaches, with an annual salary of $2 million, and knowing it’s likely that Texas, with its rich coffers, would make a counteroffer to keep him, it could require a deal that exceeds our financial capabilities. However, according to the El Paso Times, Barnes doesnâ€™t have a buyout penalty clause in his contract (link). Now, it would be purely speculative to suggest this was intentional during his re-negotiations in April 2006, but it does seem awfully convenient that the he left the door open for when new management took over at State. See what I did there?
Moreover, itâ€™s not unreasonable to expect that, at 56 years old and nearing the end of his 23rd season, Barnes may no longer have the passion, or the energy, to rebuild a struggling program where the fan base expects, at the very least, to perennially make the NCAA Tournament and challenge for the ACC title. Barnes hinted as much in April 2007, when his name was mentioned for the Kentucky job, just one year after turning down State. John Feinstein wrote in the Washington Post (link):
“I think I have one of the five best jobs in the country,” Barnes said last week. “We can recruit in Texas and we can recruit nationally. We’re good enough to contend nationally. And if we lose in the second round of the tournament…the whole state isn’t crying for my head.”
That’s because they’re already focused on spring football.
Now, maybe you see a guy that’s become content, settled into his comfort zone, but all I heard was that Texas Basketball is all hat and no cattle. It’s arguable that taking over State towards the end of his career would be different than others because the infrastructure for success is already in place — rejuvenating even, perhaps.
Maybe the Texas job has become stale to Barnes? Just recently, as reported by the NY Times (link):
With his squad in a late-season tailspin, questions about Barnesâ€™s shaky history of coaching in the N.C.A.A. tournament are being revived.
â€œI would have cared 10 years ago,â€ he said of critics questioning his 19-18 N.C.A.A. tournament record. â€œThis is not the most important thing in my life. Itâ€™s what I do, but itâ€™s not the most important thing in my life.â€
By no means would Barnes avoid this type of criticism on Tobacco Road, but it’s not unreasonable to see in his comments a successful coach that may no longer feel appreciated.
â€œI donâ€™t care,â€ Barnes said late Tuesday of the criticism. â€œIâ€™ve been in this so long, I could care less about what other people think. I quit a long time ago worrying about that.â€
So maybe he wasn’t interested in Kentucky in 2007 because he still has sights on finishing his career where he always wanted to be: in his home state? Barnes has made comments over the years that suggest his fondness for coaching in the ACC, particularly on Tobacco Road. Before the 2009 NCAA Tournament Duke-Texas second round game in Greensboro, Ed Hardin of the Greensboro News & Record wrote the following (link):
Rick Barnes of Texas has watched it from various angles through the years, from his younger days in Hickory to his coaching days at Clemson and now with Texas. And if not for twists of fate here and there, Barnes might still be here. Unlike many coaches across the country who have, shall we say, mixed emotions about Tobacco Road basketball, Barnes has always looked at it with wonder.
His goal was to coach in the ACC, and probably one of the North Carolina schools, though he’s never quite said that.
“Obviously, where I grew up, that was my goal, to coach in the ACC,” he said Friday on the eve of the second-round game between Texas and Duke.
Now, itâ€™s easy to read as much or as little into that comment as youâ€™d like, but knowing his volatile history with both Duke and Carolina, itâ€™s certainly plausible to believe that desire was limited — at least after his stint at Clemson — to either State or Wake. And with the right offer he likely could have gone to Wake Forest last spring, so it’s no stretch then to suggest he has probably long-considered the State job enticing. Hardin continues:
How his career path took him to Texas and not to Durham or Raleigh or Winston-Salem is a long story, but he’s destined to slip in and out of the state’s basketball lore until he retires.
That’s the appeal of basketball in North Carolina, something that becomes larger than life to some, requiring life-long allegiances and grudges that never go away.
For State fans, the idea of Rick Barnes itself has become â€œlarger than life.â€ But itâ€™s simply our response to all those folks â€“- [cough] Brando, Gminski, Patrick, Katz, Davis, Parrish [cough] -â€“ who think we should just accept our rightful place in Tobacco Roadâ€™s hierarchy and leave those “occassional” Glory Days in the past, where they belong. Moreover, the idea itself is transcendent of our collective personality: Barnes wouldnâ€™t back down to the ACC Royalty while at Clemson, so thereâ€™s no reason to suggest he would do so at lowly N.C. State.
Look, we can all agree that while he isnâ€™t the best coach in the nation â€“- heâ€™s certainly Top 10 of all active coaches â€“- heâ€™s a proven winner, and heâ€™s one of only a few coaches that can say yes and bring not only instant credibility to the program, but more importantly, immediately inspire and unify this weary fan base.
Why shouldn’t we have the same expectations as Duke and Carolina — or for that matter, Kentucky or UCLA or Michigan State? Just because we’ve suffered national irrelevance for two decades doesn’t mean we have to like it. That’s the attitude we project by going after Rick Barnes again. Maybe we missed our opportunity in 2006; maybe this job has never been anything more than our dream for him and he’s not interested this time around, either. That’s fine; I trust Debbie Yow has the search under control, and we’ll never hear much about it if so.
But what do we lose by going after one of the best?
The popular — albeit tired and ignorant — myth is that no one reputable will want the State job. But intelligent folks with an appreciation for not only ACC but college basketball history (like Al Featherston), and especially those of us that don’t need the NC in front of State, know that dog won’t hunt. We know this is a great job with all the resources — facilities, fan base support, TV exposure — to succeed. And surely Barnes knows that hanging that first banner in almost two-and-a-half decades would secure his place as the next N.C. State legend.
And then, who knows, in a few years turn it over to someone like, say, Sean Miller.
Remember that this coaching search, the NCAA Tournament, and other issues are being discussed on the SFN Forums.