Tennessee basketball: Rick Barnes rejecting UCLA a big statement for Vols

Tennessee basketball will hold onto Rick Barnes after all. He rejected the UCLA Bruins offer. Here’s what that says about the Volunteers.

It was a day of scares for Tennessee basketball. The all-time leading program in national championships and one of the five most storied programs in college basketball offered Vols’ head coach Rick Barnes a pretty solid contract.

Reports suggested it was for five years and at a salary of $5 million. But instead of leaving, Barnes chose to remain in Knoxville. Multiple reports Monday night, during the national championship game appeared to confirm that statement, including Rob Lewis of VolQuestChris Low of ESPN, Russell Biven of WBIR and Jimmy Hyams of WNML. Finally, Phillip Fulmer confirmed the news on UTSports.

So Vols fans can breathe a sigh of relief. And they can also celebrate how far Tennessee basketball has come and where the program stands at this point. They just got a coach to turn down UCLA and life in Southern California to stay with their program, which has never reached a Final Four. Think about that for a second.

If you want to know how shocking this is, just listen to what Dick Vitale said Monday night before it was confirmed he was staying. Vitale said Barnes was heading to UCLA and called it a “great, great hire” for the Bruins, assuming that they had the option at the hire and you don’t stay with Tennessee basketball.

And who can blame Vitale? First off, reports seemed to be suggesting that. Ben Bolch of the LA Times fell victim to Vol Twitter by retweeting a fake account, but anybody not familiar with that could make the mistake. And he followed up with a tweet saying he has his own source showing that Barnes appeared heading to UCLA.

Nobody would be surprised by that, and the same holds true for Vitale. The program with the most successful dynasty in college sports history, one that is very easy to recruit at, should be able to get what it wants when it wants it. That’s just how things go.

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Sure, John Calipari turned them down a week earlier. But that was to stay with the Kentucky Wildcats, a program arguably as storied as UCLA. And he forced Kentucky to give him a lifetime contract worth $9 million to stay as a result.

You can bet the Vols didn’t have to come close to that to keep Barnes away from UCLA. Sure, there are plenty of other reasons for Barnes to stay. His age, his connection to Appalachia, and his lack of desire to start over after just four years on Rocky Top are all valid reasons to stay.

Also, the fact that UCLA fired Ben Howland after making three straight Final Fours and now has just fired Steve Alford after a solid run makes it a very unattractive hire due to the unfair expectations. But even with all that, this is a rare thing. And it comes on the heels of a season in which Barnes helped the Vols spend four weeks at No. 1.

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Tennessee basketball may not have had the end to the season it liked. They may have to rebuild a bit next year after losing some talent. But on a night in which the college basketball national championship is being played, Vols fans are celebrating the hardest. They beat out UCLA for a men’s basketball head coach.