The 2014-15 college basketball seasons are over at the University of Tennessee, leaving its basketball programs at a crossroads. One program just had to change coaches, while the other should be questioning theirs.
The men’s program had to fire Coach Donnie Tyndall after just one overwhelmingly mediocre 16-16 campaign. Tyndall was let go because of an impending Show Cause Penalty from the NCAA for a myriad of major violations he presided over toward the end of his last job at Southern Miss. The NCAA is about to crush him and UT did not want to go through that again.
The women’s program just lost in the Elite Eight to Maryland, meaning come next March Madness it will have been a once unimaginable eight years since the last Final Four for the Lady Vols. While they shared the regular season SEC title, they lost the tournament championship. While they went 30-6, they fell short of the ultimate goal.
Athletic Director Dave Hart did something about the men’s situation, hiring former University of Texas coach Rick Barnes. Barnes, who was let go only March 27 after 17 seasons leading the Longhorns, led Texas to 16 NCAA Tournaments and one Final Four. In 28 seasons as a head coach, he has made 22 NCAA trips while amassing 604 wins at George Mason, Providence, Clemson and Texas. Unlike Tyndall, Barnes is a man of high-integrity who will return class to the program and always do things the right way.
Barnes is described as “The most decorated and accomplished head coach in school history” in a press release, and that is an accurate statement. In trading one UT for the other, Barnes goes from a university with unlimited resources to one not so unlimited. Tennessee has never had the same desire to win in men’s basketball as Texas or other football first schools. Rick Barnes will only succeed if that attitude has changed. He is clearly the most high-profile hire and most respected coach Tennessee has ever had on the men’s side.
On the women’s side, Holly Warlick just completed her third full season as coach of the Lady Vols but has been in the coach’s chair for four seasons now. Her records appear good: 27-8, 29-6, 27-9 and 30-6, 113-29 under her on-court leadership. Most every other program in America would love that record, but that is not good enough at Tennessee. The truth of the matter is that Tennessee has slipped from the ranks of the elite program that can win national championships.
The recruiting is not there, and the leadership is not there. Tennessee has lost in the Elite Eight three times and the Sweet Sixteen once in the four seasons. Programs like Connecticut and Notre Dame, and on a more local note South Carolina, have certainly kicked in the crack in the door left on the recruiting trail. The Lady Vols’ standards are Final Fours and National Championships—not good records. Those standards are not being met, and it is fair to ask if they can be again with Holly Warlick in the head chair.
While I certainly do not expect a change to be made on the women’s side now, if there is no return to elite status soon, there may be. The addition of North Carolina transfer Diamond DeShields next season should put UT back in the elite discussion. If it does not then, the questions I just posed will be asked louder and by more people both outside and inside the athletic department.