Why Longhorn’s Coach Barnes deserves a mulligan

by MOSES LEOS III

It’s odd that in today’s world of sports, what you do now supercedes any success you’ve had in the past.

A perfect example? Texas Longhorn basketball team and its head coach Rick Barnes.

With only a handful of games remaining in the 2013 season, Texas can finish no better than one game over the .500 mark and will suffer its first losing record in Big 12 play under the tutelage of Barnes. In addition, the confusing situation with guard Myck Kabongo and the NCAA sanctions levied against him have placed doubts on Barnes’ coaching abilities.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect is that 2013 could usher in the end of an era for Longhorn basketball. Unless Texas can win the Big 12 postseason tournament, the Longhorn basketball team will not participate in the NCAA tournament for the first time in Barnes’ 15-year tenure.

That’s the dividing line for many Texas basketball fans. Despite years of unmitigated success, some fans are really perturbed by the slump in 2013. Some fans have gone so far as to call for Rick Barnes to step down – or be fired.

That would be a huge mistake.

For one thing, Barnes’ influence on UT basketball cannot be expressed only in wins and losses. He has placed the team back on the map, so to speak, something many felt would be lost when Tom Penders resigned in 1998.

In addition, Barnes has exposed Texas basketball fans to a world not realized in previous coaching administrations. Never has a Longhorn coach been so successful in keeping Texas fans’ interest beyond the month of February. Heck, it seems that most of the disappointment stemming from this season can be attributed to Barnes’ success. Had he not compiled a current winning percentage of 43% overall, 46% in conference play, most fans would not even be up in arms.

Perhaps the biggest reason Barnes deserves a mulligan (and what may be his greatest challenge going forward) is the recruiting aspect.

People tend to forget that, prior to Barnes’ tenure on the Forty Acres, the Longhorns have not had notable brand-name players make an entrance in the Erwin Center. T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, Daniel Gibson, LeMarcus Aldridge, Royal Ivey, D.J. Augusin are just a few of the UT players who successfully transitioned from the University to the NBA.

Barnes’ penchant for stellar recruiting has brought a boon to the Longhorn basketball complex. High school students no longer see UT as a “football first” school anymore. They expect the Longhorns to contend. All the time.

But with stellar recruiting also comes the unsavory aspect of collegiate basketball – primarily the fact that Barnes has lost many of his stellar recruits to the infamous “one-and-done” rule that plagues NCAA basketball.

The rule, instituted by the NBA in 2005, forces all high school athletes to compete at least one season at the collegiate level before become draft eligible in the NBA. For coaches like Barnes, the rule has done more harm than good, as it has destroyed team chemistry within programs. Players are no longer willing to stay the course and finish school.

As a result, Texas has struggled to regain balance after Augustin, Durant, Avery Bradley, Tristian Thompson and J’Covan Brown all left school early to join the NBA since 2007.

I firmly believe this rule has made Barnes take a step back in his recruiting practices. He doesn’t seem willing to go after big name recruits, when the program constantly gets burned by defections.

Barnes’ greatest challenge will be to continue maintaining success. He can do this, but changes must be made and he must become more forceful in recruiting.

But, Barnes’ consistency in coaching, as well as his drive to win, should be enough for him to keep his job.

But, in today’s “what can you do for me now” sports world, nothing is ever certain.

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