Will it be Rick Barnes this time around?


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 isn’t necessarily quantitative, and it may seem quite mysterious — at the very least, strange — that such a resounding folklore surrounds a guy that didn’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 –- 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 –- are peripheral to the idea of Rick Barnes at N.C. State.

Our fascination with Barnes –- mine, anyway –- stretches back to his first season at Clemson, when he took over a program in shambles and immediately challenged the conference’s long-established paradigm. Duke and Carolina might always reign as the ACC’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 he’d be back in the ACC –-in Raleigh -– after the 2001 season. But those were the early days of Lee Fowler’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, Fowler’s utter incompetence reigned supreme, and Barnes remained at Texas.

Yet, somehow, the idea never died, which doesn’t really add up. Besides being a Hickory native, Barnes’ 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 Barnes’ 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 basketball’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 doesn’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, it’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 Barnes’s shaky history of coaching in the N.C.A.A. tournament are being revived.

“I would have cared 10 years ago,” he said of critics questioning his 19-18 N.C.A.A. tournament record. “This is not the most important thing in my life. It’s what I do, but it’s not the most important thing in my life.”

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.

“I don’t care,” Barnes said late Tuesday of the criticism. “I’ve been in this so long, I could care less about what other people think. I quit a long time ago worrying about that.”

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, it’s easy to read as much or as little into that comment as you’d like, but knowing his volatile history with both Duke and Carolina, it’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 “larger than life.” But it’s simply our response to all those folks –- [cough] Brando, Gminski, Patrick, Katz, Davis, Parrish [cough] -– who think we should just accept our rightful place in Tobacco Road’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 wouldn’t back down to the ACC Royalty while at Clemson, so there’s no reason to suggest he would do so at lowly N.C. State.

Look, we can all agree that while he isn’t the best coach in the nation –- he’s certainly Top 10 of all active coaches –- he’s a proven winner, and he’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.

About LRM

Charter member of the Lunatic Fringe and a fan, loyal to a fault.

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142 Responses to Will it be Rick Barnes this time around?

  1. mak4dpak 03/19/2011 at 6:39 PM #

    I really don’t think Sean Miller or Rick Barnes are going to leave their job for State. So we need to look at other coaching prospects. I again continue to toss Randy Bennett’s name into the search. He has done an outstanding job in his ten years there, with 9 seasons of 20 or more wins, and if he had been in the ACC with that record he would of been in NCAA tournament. This year his team won the regular season, but lost the conference tourney, and were not invited to the NCAA dance. But his teams play very disciplined basketball, and yet has one of the top offensive teams in the Division I, and he has had this success with teams of lesser talent than we have at State, so what an appeal it would be knowing he would be in the big dance, and have better players to coach. He is only 49 years old, also. I have sent my recommendation to D Yow, and she responded to me, and thanked me for the recommendation.

  2. highstick 03/19/2011 at 6:45 PM #

    I can’t say that I’d not be pleased with Barnes if he brings “fire”…I also can’t say that I’d not be pleased with Miller..But I paid a little more attention to Mark Few the other night and was not at all unimpressed…

    Can’t watch their game tonight, but I will be DVR’ing for a closer look..

    Granted this is a Barnes thread, but any legitimate downsides on Few that you guys have noticed?

  3. LRM 03/19/2011 at 6:51 PM #

    I think Mark Few is a great coach. But while he’s dominated the mediocre West Coast Conference, which is comprised of small, private schools (all faith-based), nationally he’s perennially underachieved with a program that’s been a media darling for the past decade. He’s the WCC’s rock star, but that wouldn’t translate to the ACC.

    Could Few succeed at State? Absolutely. But every time someone mentions Mark Few (or Gregg Marshall), all I can think of is how Pete Gillen is Xavier’s all-time winningest coach.

  4. VaWolf82 03/19/2011 at 6:53 PM #

    I again continue to toss Randy Bennett’s name into the search.

    2nd biggest fish in a really small pond. He might turn out to be great, but he’s definitely not in my top-10.

  5. highstick 03/19/2011 at 6:59 PM #

    Good points, LRM…Few does look like a class act, but can he translate it to ACC wins is legit…

  6. JEOH2 03/19/2011 at 7:00 PM #

    LRM’s last paragraph is exactly why I don’t understand why some folk push nonstop for a mid-major coach over an established coach…

  7. highstick 03/19/2011 at 7:02 PM #

    I had a little “pow wow” with some of the local guys that knew Marshall better than I do last weekend. Their opinions were mixed and unrelated to his basketball abilities. It made me think a little though!

  8. jbpackfan 03/19/2011 at 7:06 PM #

    Great post LRM. Should have happened 5 years ago. I don’t know if it will be Barnes, but I do know that several BIG coaches (including Barnes) are interested in the State job. Whether that interest turns into a signed deal is yet to be seen, but I think Yow is going to get us a good one.

  9. hball57 03/19/2011 at 7:06 PM #

    While I think all of the Coaches mentioned above are very good coaches, I reflect on what Debbie Yow has placed as her criteria. She mentioned recruiting, which can be a big deal if you (1) spent your career on teh West Coast or (2) spent your entire career at a Mid-major school.

    I think we have had a fascination with Barnes that has much to do with things that are not basketball related. I am not saying he is not an excellent coach, but State fans have given him cult status more over his going toe-to-toe with Dean Smith than anything else. And, by the way, Clemson did not win in Chapel Hill during his tenure.

    I believe we will inquire about a lot of big name coaches. But I think we will end up with a “Rising Star” type of coach who has worked in a BCS school as an assistant, has recruiting contacts in the South and on the East Coast, has a great relationship with his players. He may not have the experience we would like, but he may be the best hire long term for NC State. I think our coach will come from the A-10, CAA or similar conference. JMHO.

  10. Wulfpack 03/19/2011 at 7:13 PM #

    No coach is without his faults. Barnes is probably as fault proof a guy as we could find. He’d be an A+ hire, no question. I would be elated.

    I would still contend Miller likely has more of an upside. I think he’s going to be great for a long long time. Couldn’t go wrong with either.

    2 months ago I probably would have said we are probably going to get a mid major. But Debbie Yow has her sights set high, very high indeed. And she just may pull it off.

  11. LRM 03/19/2011 at 7:16 PM #

    For the record, I think Miller or Dixon have the most potential upside, because of their age and the fact they’re still developing and improving as coaches.

    Not to be contradictory, but we can be pretty certain what Barnes will give us.

    That said, I’d be ecstatic with any of them.

  12. BJD95 03/19/2011 at 7:24 PM #

    I think we will get a name coach, with my initial favorite prospect (Mark Turgeon) the least accomplished of the candidates. I’m drooling with anticipation. Time to reclaim some glory.

  13. wayofthemaster 03/19/2011 at 7:31 PM #

    Barnes’ 13-year record at Texas is extremely impressive, winning the Big 12 on three occasions and finishing as the runner-up five times.

    But why have the Longhorns gone into a freefall at midseason the past few years after looking like one of the best teams in the country in the first half?

    They began this year at 23-3 but went 4-4 in their last eight.

    They went 17-0 last year before finishing 7-10 in their last 17 and losing in the first round of the tournament.

    In 2009, they started 15-4 before going 8-8 in their last 16 and losing in the second round.

    Texas hasn’t made it past the second round of the tournament in three of the past four years.

    Just wondering if anyone has any theories?

  14. 93Pack 03/19/2011 at 7:44 PM #


    Barnes’ Texas team beat UNC in Chapel Hill this year.

  15. triadwolf 03/19/2011 at 7:48 PM #

    ^That was in Greensboro, not Chapel Hill.

  16. ncsukyle 03/19/2011 at 7:49 PM #

    I know it’s unrealistic but for what it’s worth, I hope Debbie Yow’s list has Brad Stevens on the top of it. I think he’s a great coach in the making (evidenced by a halftime lead over #1 seed Pitt.) and he’s young. Would love for him to make and finish his career at NC State.

  17. 93Pack 03/19/2011 at 8:12 PM #

    Sorry, in Greensboro this year.
    3-0 vs Roy’s UNC, he also one last year and in the 2nd Round of the 04 NCAA Tournament.

  18. 93Pack 03/19/2011 at 8:29 PM #

    ^won not one

  19. werncstate 03/19/2011 at 8:43 PM #

    ncsukyle I could not agree more. If Brad Stevens is the the next nc state coach I will be ecstatic.

  20. ADVENTUROO 03/19/2011 at 8:57 PM #

    Well, If the boys are ready to “talk” and be wooed, then Mark Few looks like he will get a call in the morning. The Zags look like they just Zigged. Few does not have the HorsePower to keep up with BYU….even without the lad who shacked up with his girl friend.

    Tomorrow, I think, one of the TOP 5 will be available….Mr. Barnes and Mr. Miller meet and ONE of them will be accepting phone calls on Monday….

    The ball bounces on…..

  21. wayofthemaster 03/19/2011 at 9:04 PM #

    Well, hello Brad Stevens.

  22. ADVENTUROO 03/19/2011 at 9:12 PM #

    Mr. Stevens’ stock has just had trading halted in the after hours markets due to an unprecendent victory over a number 1 seed. Mr. Stevens’ agent will not be accepting calls until the final buzzer of Mr. Stevens’ final LOSING game of this season….assuming there is one…

    Twill be interesting to see if Mr. Stevens’ sudden prominence will change the dynamics of the “hunt”. It MAY add to the competition and Messrs. Miller, Few, Barnes, etc. will have to wait until Butler finally loses.

    Sort of a quiet guy…..very unassuming. Still chomping on that gum.

  23. Wolfy__79 03/19/2011 at 9:27 PM #

    billy donovan won’t be available until after next weekend..

  24. LakistaMcCuller 03/19/2011 at 9:33 PM #

    Hey Jamie Dixon, “a change would do you good”.

    I do think the State coach will be someone up for a new challenge, but also someone who wants to move to a great area for their family. My bet is Brad Stevens will wait for a Big 10 opening though.

  25. StateFans 03/19/2011 at 9:33 PM #

    Ain’t nobody calling Mark frigging Few. Give me a break. That’s ridiculous.

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