The end of the Rick Barnes era at Texas is in sight, and it’s a cruel reality.
Winning is how coaches are judged, and Barnes deserves a kind jury. He made the NCAA tournament in his first 14 seasons at Texas, a streak that ended in 2013. He has won. Consistently.
The perception of Barnes as a coach has not always lined up with the results. I’ve written about that before.
But the defense is about to rest. It might be a lost cause at this point.
Since the Longhorns finished their 16-18 season, they have had three players transfer and another, Myck Kabongo, declare for the NBA draft. That’s the program’s three leading scorers and a rotation big man. Gone.
Then athletic director DeLoss Dodds, always a supporter of Barnes, told the Austin American-Statesman this:
If I said I was not concerned, that would not be accurate. I am concerned. I am troubled by it, and we need to get it fixed.
Win, and win quickly. That’s the message of any AD who has to come out in the local paper in defense of his high-profile coach.
Well, that’s going to be an issue.
In the past, Barnes has been able to reload as quickly as a Texas gunslinger. Since 2006, Texas has had 11 players drafted in the NBA. Only Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas have had more in that same time span. Nine of those players left school early. A 10th Longhorn, J’Covan Brown, left after his junior year in 2012 and went undrafted.
Talent leaves. Talent comes in. That’s how Barnes kept racking up the NCAA tourney bids.
But last season without Brown as a senior and after the NCAA decided to punish Kabongo with an unnecessary suspension that stretched into mid-February, the task was impossible. Barnes had the youngest team in college basketball—he played all freshmen and sophomores—and the only true NBA prospect was showing up to games in a suit.
Barnes had a laundry list of excuses he could give for only the second losing season in his career. Everyone should get a mulligan.
But next season will count, and it’s not looking promising.
The Barnes detractors can argue that he has lost his touch in recruiting. The Horns had opportunity to sell to the 2013 class, and what they came up with was a class whose top player is ranked 105th by Rivals.com.
The state of Texas produced 11 players in Rivals.com’s top 150. Barnes landed one of the 11.
Barnes has not always depended exclusively on local talent. He has had a national presence on the recruiting scene, but Kabongo is the only high-profile recruit from outside of the state he’s recruited in his last three classes.
Those classes were good enough to tread water until Barnes could land another big-time recruit or two. Had Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis, Jaylen Bond and Kabongo stuck around, Barnes would have had a roster that could have competed in the top half of the Big 12.
What’s left is a roster without stars or experience. Jonathan Holmes is the only player left from the 2011 class of six, and he’ll be the only upperclassman in the rotation next year.
Barnes’ PR campaign that has followed the departures—listen to the video below for a sample—is that the bad seeds are gone now. What’s left are guys who really care about the program. That’s nice and all, but what Barnes has won with is great talent.
When he arrived at Texas, Barnes coached a team of seven scholarship players to a Big 12 title in his first season. That kind of better-than-expected season in 2013-14 could buy him more time. Or, Barnes will have to dust off his recruiting game and score big with the 2014 class to give a fanbase that has turned apathetic something to be excited about.
The clock is ticking.