Both Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes and Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer were stressed out last weekend. Barnes was deliberating between leaving for UCLA and staying at Tennessee, and Fulmer was worrying about Barnes leaving and having to conduct another coaching search, which would be his third major head coaching search in his barely 16 months on the job.
Luckily for Fulmer, that didn’t happen, and Barnes elected to stay with the Vols.
During the Monday all this was coming to a head, Vol fans and local businesses were doing their part to try and convince Barnes to stay in Knoxville. Multiple restaurants offered him free meals for a lifetime, the Tennessee Smokies offered him free baseball tickets for life, the Knoxville Ice Bears offered a similar deal, and Dead End BBQ offered to donate lunch to the Emerald Youth Foundation. That’s not to mention the fan reaction on social media, which was largely positive and saw many fans pleading for Barnes to stay.
According to Barnes, though, he wasn’t even aware all of that was going on at the time. He was too focused on trying to figure out what to do and didn’t see the outpouring of support till after the fact.
“I really wasn’t aware of it at the time, because I was locked in,” Barnes said during his press conference on Tuesday. “There were some friends here in town that I have great respect for that I was talking to, but none of that actually came up to be honest with you.
“There were so many things going on at the time with what was happening, and it was happening quickly.”
Once Barnes did learn about all those offers and deluge of support, he said it overwhelmed him.
“People here have been great, and once I heard all of the stuff that people were talking about, it did overwhelm me,” Barnes stated. “I think sometimes you get so locked into what you’re doing, maybe you don’t realize the total impact that’s going on with our basketball program. And it’s not just me; it’s the kind of players we have here and the support people give us.
“Being out in this community, it means a lot. I’ve fallen in love with the different things that I have gotten involved with, the different people, and my wife has too. She’s out doing something today that is important in this community. What she’s doing needs to be done.”
Barnes, his family, and his team have given back in a multitude of ways to the Knoxville community since he was hired back in 2015. He’s most notably worked with the Emerald Youth Foundation, but he’s also given to and supported other charities and was vital in helping Tennessee Assistant Athletics Director for Communications Tom Satkowiak in his process of finding a donor and the healing process after his liver transplant.
Though he isn’t from Knoxville, Barnes has become a staple of the community that totals nearly 200,000 residents. His impact goes beyond the basketball court, and that was reflected tenfold during the events that transpired last week.
Phillip Fulmer gives a lot of the credit to Barnes staying at Tennessee to what the Knoxville community has done in the past for UT’s head coach and what they did that week.
“I give great kudos to our administration, to a group of donors, and really the people that follow our program,” Fulmer said. “Whether it was on social media or otherwise, all the encouragement that Rick and his family got to stay. I think it was a combination of all those things that helped influence him to stay here.”
Barnes himself isn’t from Knoxville, but he’s more or less become an adopted member of the East Tennessee family. He recognizes that, and he claims he did everything in his power to honor that during the whole process.
“It’s really above and beyond a basketball program. I’m in love with this community. I’m in love with this state,” Barnes stated. “I just think we have a lot of great things going on in this town, and I want to help be a part of continuing to make Knoxville one of the greatest places to live.
“I didn’t want to do anything where Tennessee felt begrudged. Tennessee has been so good to me.”