Auburn University announced the firing of head men's basketball coach Tony Barbee on Wednesday, less than two hours after the Tigers were eliminated from the SEC tournament by South Carolina.
Barbee, 42, has been the coach at Auburn for each of the last four seasons, compiling a frustrating 48-75 record. The Tigers went 14-16 in 2013-14, including a 6-12 record in the SEC. The team did not have a winning record in any of Barbee's four seasons, with his best campaign being a 15-16 mark in 2010-11.
"After careful evaluation of the last four years, I feel this is best for the program," athletics director Jay Jacobs said.
According to the press release, Barbee was fired immediately after the game at the team hotel. Auburn, which many expected to win against the lowly Gamecocks, shot just 38.1 percent and had as many turnovers as field goals made (16). The Tigers also allowed South Carolina to dominate on the glass and at the free-throw line, making for a situation where Jacobs wanted to move to a new era as quickly as possible.
Auburn senior Allen Payne added his sentiment:
I can say this now... We'll struggle as long as we are under Under Armour.— Lucky Lefty (@AllenPayne2_) March 13, 2014
Longtime college basketball writer Andy Glockner theorized that embarrassment played a factor in the quick dismissal:
Damn, Tony Barbee got got by the "You lost to South Carolina by 18" rule.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) March 13, 2014
While the instant nature of the firing could strike some as harsh—the immediacy recalls memories of USC's dispatching of football coach Lane Kiffin—Auburn will now have a slight leg up over other schools looking to make a splash.
It's unclear at this time how much of a financial backing Jacobs has to land a high-profile coach. An up-and-coming power in the 1980s—especially in the immediate departure of Charles Barkley—the Tigers have returned to also-ran status in recent years. They haven't reached the NCAA tournament since 2003 and have been selected just twice in the 21st century.
For now, though, Jacobs talked like someone with big plans for the future.
"I believe we should compete for championships in men's basketball," Jacobs said. "It's time for somebody else to have a turn. We need to find somebody to come in here and take what we have here now and put some more in and compete for SEC titles."
Names are already starting to trickle in about potential replacements. ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported former Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury plans on reaching out for the position. Stansbury, 54, retired in 2012 following a 14-year run with the Bulldogs. With seven tournament appearances and just two non-winning seasons during his tenure, Stansbury would at least represent an immediate upgrade from the previous regime.
Goodman also noted other potential candidates:
Namea I have been told are at or near top of Auburn list: Bruce Pearl, La Tech's Mike White, Duke asst Jeff Capel, S Miss Donnie Tyndall.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 13, 2014
If the Tigers are looking to go younger, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports notes Louisiana Tech's Michael White could receive interest. White was an Ole Miss assistant for eight seasons before taking the Louisiana Tech job in 2011, where he's already built a solid program. The Bulldogs are expected to compete for the automatic berth from Conference USA this season.
Because of the immediacy of the news, it's unlikely any candidate has an overwhelming advantage. Jacobs needs to be diligent in his process and find someone able to recruit athletes and sell them on the program. And it wouldn't hurt to have a little coaching innovation, much in the same way Jacobs took a chance on head football coach Gus Malzahn.
Barbee shouldn't have much issue finding work. He's still a bright young coach who earned this job in 2010 by leading UTEP to back-to-back 20-win seasons and an NCAA championship berth. Athletics directors at small schools who lose their coaches to big-time openings would do well to give Barbee a call. If not, look for Barbee to latch on somewhere as an assistant under a high-profile coach.
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