You may or may not have heard by now, but apparently at Texas there's a little instability in the coach's office. It's a job rated the seventh best in its sport, but in recent years, the substance hasn't matched the potential. A few weeks ago, I would have been discussing Mack Brown. However, those descriptors also apply to Texas' hoops head coach Rick Barnes.
Barnes has coached some of college basketball's most talented players and teams in recent years, but his reputation has suffered as a result of their NCAA Tournament shortcomings in the past half-decade. Barnes missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time last season after going 16-18, but Barnes has been getting a pass for longer than that. The last time he advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament was in 2008 and only once since then has Texas ended the year higher than fourth in the Big 12.
Barnes had to be watching Brown, who's been much more successful as a head coach in his respective sport and been responsible for the bulk of Texas' immense revenue growth in the last decade squirm and get a little sweaty in his own leather office chair. His five-year grace period after their trip to the 2008 Elite Eight expired this season and the hiring of a new athletic director who appeared intent on clearing house spelled doom.
Wednesday night's win over UNC was eye opening. Not only was it a national television victory over No. 14 ranked UNC minus P.J. Hairston, whose season may be over, but it also improved Texas to 9-1 on the year.
“I said we’re not going to be taken seriously until we do something we’re not supposed to do,” Barnes said after the win. “And I said you’ve got a chance this week and it starts [against UNC].”
Prior to UNC, their biggest wins thus far have been unimpressive victories over unranked Temple and Vanderbilt. By the night of Dec. 21, we'll know just how serious of a Big 12 contender they are when their nonconference schedule brings fifth-ranked Michigan State to town.
This isn't one of Barnes' star-studded teams eithe. There are no T.J. Fords, Kevin Durants, Daniel Gibsons or LaMarcus Aldridges on this roster. These cats are so blue collar, they return to the locker room after 40 minutes covered in soot.
The oldest player is junior forward Jonathan Holmes. Although the 6-8, 240 pound forward leads the Longhorns in scoring, he's not garnering much interest from NBA scouts.
It's not as if the state doesn't have great talent. It might not be as fertile as the football landscape, but from 2010 to 2014, Texas produced 20 top-40 prospects. Cameron Ridley, the Longhorns' shot swatter in the post is the only one to commit to Texas.
Recruiting has never been an issue for Barnes. However, his clipboard acumen has always been considered suspect. Either Barnes has seemingly altered his approach and begun steering clear of the blue-chippers so he can flex his coaching muscle.
Offensively, the Longhorns appear mediocre, but their frontcourt is getting it done.
Barnes' words would seem to indicate the latter. After letting three of his leading scorers from 2013 transfer in the offseason, Barnes wasn't upset to see them go because of what he perceived as a nonchalance and indifference on display.
"The whole thing's different," Barnes told Bleacher Report. "I like this group of guys. I didn't enjoy coaching basketball last year, the last couple years, but I enjoy coaching this basketball team because of the way they want to be good. And we're going to be good. We're going to be a good team."
They look tough now, but as I said before, the Big 12 is where Barnes' teams often get their toupees knocked off.
Barnes keeping his job didn't appear possible a month and a half ago when the Longhorns took the floor without their top five leading scorers from the previous season.
The Longhorns have hit their stride early, but for Barnes' it's never been about starts. The finishes are how his teams should be critiqued. If they stumble again down the stretch, Texas' super search committee may have to reconvene around Easter for another extensive coaching hunt.