KNOXVILLE (press release)—Tennessee’s fortunes on the hardwood have never looked brighter, as Rick Barnes, the most decorated and accomplished head coach in school history, was handed the reins to the men’s basketball program on March 31, 2015.
That was the headlines for the University of Tennessee’s basketball program until new headlines surfaced which may have muddy the water, again. UT is a school that already has suffered numerous blunt-force traumas to its basketball program in recent years.
Rick Barnes was the coach of the Longhorns in the years mentioned a report by The Chronicle of Higher Education which stretch from 2006-13. The report mentions alleged academic impropriety and/or questionable academic outcomes involving three former players: P.J. Tucker, J’Covan Brown and Martez Walker. An earlier Chronicle story detailed potential academic fraud committed before entering college involving two former Longhorns, though only one (Brown) was named.
Texas issued a statement Wednesday in response, saying in part: “The university has no information that suggests former Men’s Basketball Coach Rick Barnes knew of or was involved in any academic improprieties.”
That last sentence is certainly the most important sentence to the folks at Tennessee, where Barnes landed very quickly after being forced at out at Texas. But that could be a matter for the NCAA to decide in the future. (If an investigation does find violations at Texas, Barnes could still face sanctions.)
Barnes got the Tennessee job because athletic director Dave Hart had to fire his last coach, Donnie Tyndall, after all of one year on the job. During that single season leading the Volunteers, reports surfaced that Tyndall was involved in a messy NCAA violation situation at his previous school, Southern Mississippi, and while that’s never good, it was triply bad for both Tyndall and Tennessee.
Barnes, the fourth coach since 2011, was hired by Hart on March 31. His firing at Texas was announced March 29. It had been in the works for a couple of days prior to that, but the fact remains that Tennessee moved very quickly from courtship to marriage with Barnes. A year earlier, Tyndall had been hired seven days after Martin left.
Thus the question in 2015 is the same as the question was in 2014, when the Tyndall stuff blew up: Should quick-draw Tennessee have slowed its search long enough to know what was in the coaches’ closets before making those hires?
From a compliance standpoint, the Tyndall hire is far less defensible than the Barnes hire. On March 31, there wasn’t really anything to worry about with Barnes from that standpoint – and, ultimately, there still may not be. If there is an NCAA investigation at Texas (which is unclear at this point) it may not name Barnes at all.