A year and a half ago, Vols fans united in voicing our displeasure at then athletic director John Curie’s decision to hire Greg Shiano as the University of Tennessee’s new head football coach.
In just a matter of days, the offer was rescinded from Shiano, Currie was terminated, and former football coach Phil Fulmer was put in place as athletic director. Vols fans were happy and satisfied with the direction of our athletic department.
That is until the last couple of week when a former basketball coach took his team to the Final Four while our current coach couldn’t get the Vols past the Sweet Sixteen. And now, a certain set of Vols fans have begun calling for Rick Barnes to be shown the door and to back up the Brinks truck to Bruce Pearl’s house to bring him back to Knoxville.
This indicates a couple of things to me.
One is that Vols fans learned the wrong lesson from the whole Shiano situation. What happened there was unprecedented (and Yahoo sports is still mad about it), but vocal Vols fans seem to believe that somehow we should or do have more input into how the athletic department is run.
Don’t get me wrong — I want Vols athletics to win and do well. But I also know that now AD Fulmer can’t be beholden to or listen to opinion of Vols fans when it comes to making personnel decisions. (To see why this is bad, go read Clay Travis’ On Rocky Top about a former AD deciding online forums meant that Vol nation didn’t want Fulmer as our coach anymore). And yet, a wide variety of people online seem to be of the opinion that Barnes should go, despite taking the basketball team to heights of success we haven’t seen in a while — even under Pearl.
These same fans seem to have their noses out of joint that Barnes took a call from UCLA about their coaching vacancy. And while the scars of Lane Kiffin are still fresh a decade or more later, there are some huge differences here. For one thing, Kiffin didn’t tell UT administration about the offer to go to USC or give them a chance to counter. He just left like a thief in the night, trying to take players with him. Barnes has had the decency to not only listen to UCLA, but give UT a chance to counter the offer. He’s also reportedly trying to use this as an opportunity to help his assistant coaches get a better deal with UT.
I can’t blame Barnes for taking the call and looking at his options. Nor is it disloyal to use this as an opportunity to get a better deal for himself and his coaches wherever he lands. UT fans may recall a lot of football coaches did the same thing to the Vols during our football head coaching search.
Which brings me to my second point, the selective memory of some Vols fans. Too many seem to forget that Bruce Pearl brought his termination from UT on himself by violating NCAA rules, lying about it to UT and the NCAA, and getting a show-cause penalty. UT had no choice but to terminate him. And Pearl landed on his feet, getting a job as a studio analyst for ESPN until his show cause dropped off and he could work again.
And in his return to coaching, there are still swirling winds around some of Pearl’s assistant coaches of violating rules. So, it could be that at some point Auburn will have no choice but to fire him or he’ll get another penalty. This pattern shows that Pearl has not learned from the errors that led to his termination from UT in the first place. And that’s a huge reason that, while I appreciate all he did for UT during his tenure, I’m not ready to welcome him back with open arms.
I hope that Barnes, who is said to be praying about this decision, determines that he wants to stay at UT. Not only is he a great coach, but he’s the right kind of guy you want leading our basketball team. He gave Vol nation what it needed this spring — hope and pride again.
I work event marketing on the weekends, so I see a lot of people around middle Tennessee. Over the course of football season, I noticed fewer and fewer people with power T’s on. But as this basketball team played and won, I noticed more hats, shirts, gear, and smiles from Vols’ fans. For that alone, I consider the season a success and am grateful to Barnes and this team for giving us the pride in the orange and white again. I hope that the other leaders in the athletic department have noticed this, see the bar is raised, and will try to continue this growth of pride in our beloved Tennessee.
I hope Barnes stays. But if he does, we don’t need Pearl back. No matter what certain segments of Vol twitter may believe.