KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes believes he would be in Westwood today coaching the UCLA’s men’s basketball team if buyout negotiations hadn’t broken down.
At the time Barnes was talking with UCLA about its vacancy, his contract required Tennessee to receive $5 million if he had left for another job. The buyout is slightly less now; his contract calls for the buyout to be pro-rated after April 15.
A deal couldn’t be worked out. Tennessee announced on April 8 that Barnes was staying in Knoxville.
“When you get down to a situation like that, it has to make sense from a financial standpoint,” Barnes said at a Tuesday news conference. “It does have to. The bottom line is we just really couldn’t work it out with the buyout.”
When asked what would have happened if the Bruins had covered his buyout, Barnes said: “I think I would have been the coach at UCLA.”
Barnes has gone 88-50 in four seasons at Tennessee, including a 57-15 mark the last two years. The 64-year-old Barnes owns an overall head coaching record of 692-364. He helped Tennessee own the No. 1 ranking for nearly a month and finish 31-6 this season with an NCAA regional semifinal overtime loss to Purdue.
He said his flirtation with UCLA wasn’t a result of any dissatisfaction with Tennessee. Barnes said he was intrigued by UCLA because of his admiration for that program’s rich history.
Barnes talked about how he paid to attend a basketball camp as an eighth-grader specifically because former UCLA coach John Wooden and Pete Maravich were guest speakers.
“I’ve got pictures of myself sitting in John Wooden’s house,” Barnes said. “I’ve got pictures of me in restaurants with him. I got to know coach Wooden in the latter part of his life, and I got to meet his daughter at dinner with him. There was a relationship there.”
Barnes said there were times early last week when he thought he would end up at UCLA. Barnes said he prayed over his future and considered the breakdown in buyout negotiations a sign from above.
“I asked God for total clarity,” Barnes said. “And when they came back with their decision, I knew that I’m not supposed to be the coach UCLA. As soon as that happened, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m good with this,’ because I felt like again, that God had made it crystal clear that I needed to be at the University of Tennessee.”
In the university release that announced Barnes is staying, athletic director Phillip Fulmer said Tennessee’s leadership “stepped up to show Rick how much he is valued and appreciated” without offering further details. Tennessee hasn’t yet released Barnes’ new contract, and the coach says he still hasn’t signed it.
“We weren’t going to let somebody come in here and buy our coach without putting up a fight,” Fulmer said Tuesday.
Barnes also dismissed what he brushed off as “rumors” about problems in his relationship with the athletic director. Barnes said that “coach Fulmer has taught me a lot” and noted that they’re in a Bible study together.
“For anybody to think he hasn’t supported me since I’ve been here, they are crazy,” Barnes said. “Where that would come from, I don’t get it. I have watched him come in here and the way he has tried to look at 24 different sports and talk about what he wants every sport on this campus to have everything they need to compete at the highest level.”
Barnes said he lost more than five pounds and didn’t leave his house for two days as he pondered his future while the negotiations with UCLA continued.
“Those situations, they get tough because they probably felt like they went as far as they could go (and) I felt I went as far as I could go,” Barnes said. “But the fact is I’m here because I feel like God wants me here. And I believe that with all my heart.”