RTI contributor Adam McCracken contributed to this article
On Tuesday, Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer provided some clarity along with men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes on a wild Final Four weekend.
Over that weekend, it was revealed publicly that UCLA was courting Barnes to be their next head coach, and Barnes was very interested in the position. Ultimately, however, Barnes elected to stay at Tennessee and signed a new deal with UT.
In what was a wild 48 hours, Tennessee fans everywhere held their breath, anxiously waiting for updates on Barnes and UCLA’s job offer. After some back-and-forth, Barnes signed a new deal with Tennessee, got a significant raise, and received some extra benefits such as use of a private plane.
But when all was said and done, Barnes made it clear that Tennessee was a special place first and foremost, and he wanted to be here.
“It’s beyond this basketball program. I’m in love with this community. I’m in love with this state,” Barnes stated. “I think we’ve got a lot of great things going on in this town, and I want to continue to be part of making Knoxville one of the greatest places to live.”
Fulmer, who was very vocal on his attempt to keep Barnes at Tennessee, had a very busy week in athletics when he got the news of Barnes and UCLA.
“Several of us had spent several days out finding a women’s basketball coach,” Fulmer explained. “We came back last Friday, was at the baseball game on Saturday and got a phone call from his (Rick Barnes’) financial advisor. I talked to Rick on Sunday and met personally Sunday night.”
Fulmer received the good news that Barnes was staying on Monday night, and Vol nation heard the news during halftime of the National Championship game. But that whole day was a stressful one for him.
“We went through a really tough Monday, and he called me on Monday night (saying) that he was staying,” Fulmer added. “I give great kudos to our administration, to a group of donors. Really, the people that follow our program, whether it be on social media or other (ways), all the encouragement that Rick and his family got to stay, I think it was a combination of all those things helping influence him to stay.”
Both Barnes and Fulmer could see both sides of the decision, and both were full of emotions. It was evident the history of UCLA played a huge factor in Barnes’ consideration. Fulmer knew that he was up against a rich and historic program, and that led to a lot of apprehension on his part.
“He was so honest and upfront as to how he felt, and growing up a John Wooden fan, like all of us, I guess, my age and around his age did,” Fulmer said of Barnes. “What UCLA represented to him from a blue blood (standpoint). It was very concerning. A lot apprehension on our part that this was real.
“It had nothing to do, or against, Tennessee at all. It was just a feeling that he had. A few years left in his career, he wanted to be at a place where it could be easier to win a national championship, perhaps, at UCLA. Really, that’s all it was.”
Ultimately, UCLA’s inability to handle Barnes’ $5 million buyout was the key determining factor, but Barnes also wasn’t looking to jump at the first opportunity he could; UCLA was a blue blood and a dream job.
That kind of situation could’ve driven a wedge between both Fulmer and Barnes, but the two made it clear that their relationship with each other was as strong as ever after the situation. Both men said those decisions weren’t made without talking it out with each other.
The situation was stressful for Fulmer, and it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for Barnes, either. Barnes mentioned that he “didn’t come out of (his) house for two days and (he) lost over five pounds” during the whole ordeal.
It clearly wasn’t easy for either Barnes or Fulmer. But after all of the negotiations, prayers, and talking with family, Barnes shocked many when he decided to stay. The deal seemed too sweet to pass up, and many were already reporting it was close to a done deal. So what happened?
“I’ve said before, I’ve got faith in the God that I serve and the God that I love,” said Barnes. “I believe He is sovereign. I believe He made it very clear through the many people that were praying for us during this time that I am supposed to be at Tennessee.”