By Jimmy Hyams
Will Rick Barnes stay or will he go?
UCLA has apparently offered the Tennessee coach a lucrative package to head West and replace the fired Steve Alford.
Barnes’ roots are in the South. He has been a terrific fit at Tennessee. He is closer to his family and his wife’s family.
Would he be a great fit in Southern California?
I’m not sure.
But I know this: Money talks.
And if UCLA is willing to open the vault for Barnes, he could be enticed to leave.
Last year when Barnes renegotiated his Tennessee contract after a co-SEC championship, he wanted to be the second-highest paid coach in the SEC.
Barnes got his wish. UT paid him $3.25 million with a built-in $100,000 raise over the next four years and a $5 million buyout.
Since then, Barnes has won 31 games, been ranked No. 1 for a month, won every home game and was named national coach of the year by two organizations.
His stock couldn’t be higher.
Also since then, Texas A&M hired Buzz Williams for $3.5 million a year, dropping Barnes to No. 3 in SEC pay.
Barnes has publicly fought for his assistants to make more money. But he also wants to be paid what he considers to be fair market value.
And there’s only one basketball coach in the SEC deserving of more money: John Calipari.
If UCLA did indeed make overtures to Calipari, it would have offered in the neighborhood of $10 million, since Calipari already makes $9.3 million at Kentucky.
If UCLA was willing to offer that much to Calipari, it surely would have been willing to pay Barnes about $5 million a year.
So if UCLA is willing to pony up that kind of cash for Barnes, shouldn’t Tennessee?
If Barnes leaves for UCLA, it shouldn’t be about the money. Tennessee has plenty. It has paid its football coaches handsomely through the years – without much of a return. And of the current UT football coaches only one – offensive coordinator Jim Chaney – has had a measure of success at Tennessee.
Barnes has had tremendous success at Tennessee, with a school-record 57 wins in a two-year period.
But, as with most situations, money likely isn’t the only driving force.
What if Jordan Bone and Grant Williams both leave for the NBA, where is Tennessee basketball?
It’s in a rebuilding mode. You’ve already lost seniors Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander. What would that starting five look like without Bone and Williams?
Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, John Fulkerson, Yves Pons? Or Derrick Walker? Or DJ Burns? Or Jalen Johnson?
You’ve also lost your top assistant, Rob Lanier, to Georgia State.
And you might lose assistant Desmond Oliver to Kennesaw State.
You’d be facing a major rebuilding job without key parts and with high expectations that you’ve built.
And you could go from 31 wins to potentially the NIT.
At UCLA, at 64, Barnes could re-start his coaching clock and for more money – assuming UT isn’t willing to match the Bruins’ offer.
I can’t imagine that Barnes wants to leave.
And I can’t imagine athletic director Phillip Fulmer not stepping to the plate and paying Barnes what it would take to keep him here.
If you argue UT can’t afford to keep Barnes, I’d argue UT can’t afford to lose him.
But stranger things have happened.
After all, this is Tennessee athletics — where you can expect the unexpected.