Tennessee basketball: Despite Rick Barnes comments, Vols a better job than UCLA

KNOXVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13: Head coach Rick Barnes of the Tennessee Volunteers looks on during the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Thompson-Boling Arena on November 13, 2018 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won the game 66-53. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13: Head coach Rick Barnes of the Tennessee Volunteers looks on during the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Thompson-Boling Arena on November 13, 2018 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won the game 66-53. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images) /

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes admitted the buyout kept him from leaving the Vols for the UCLA Bruins. But the Volunteers are actually a better job.

Nobody should be upset or surprised that Rick Barnes almost left Tennessee basketball for the UCLA Bruins. Who is going to debate the lure of tradition at UCLA? And how can we complain about coaches not being honest but then rake a coach through the coals for expressing his feelings?

Taking all that into account, the idea that a buyout hangup kept Barnes from leaving the Vols for the Bruins probably doesn’t shock anybody in Vol Nation. He’d be leaving a program with no Final Four appearances for one that is the all-time leader in national championships. And he admitted as much, saying that it was the lure of coaching at UCLA.

But here’s the kicker: Even if it was just about the buyout, Barnes actually chose the better job by staying with the Vols. Tennessee basketball is a better coaching job than UCLA basketball at this moment, and the evidence for that is overwhelming.

How do you weigh coaching hires? Well, taking out extenuating circumstances, there are three key factors: resources to win, level of expectations, and pay. The best jobs are the ones that can pay the most and provide the best resources to win but have limited fan expectations.

That’s exactly what Tennessee basketball is. The Vols are actually competitive with UCLA in resources and salary, and they dominate when it comes to expectations. In fact, the expectations are so that the Bruins should not even be a desirable job.

They fired Ben Howland despite the fact that he took them to three straight Final Fours and won four Pac-12 championships, and they fired Steve Alford despite three Sweet 16 appearances in four years. It’s like they expect a repeat of the dynasty of the John Wooden era.

Meanwhile, in Knoxville, you’ll keep your job just by making the NCAA Tournament every other year on average. That is, unless you’re Jerry Green or you get caught in some sort of violation. The pressure is way off.

It’s worth noting that the UCLA dynasty under Wooden appeared to be heavily influenced by a dark side, and that dark side was the late Sam Gilbert a wealthy businessman and booster for the Bruins who funneled talent there. You can read about that here.

Their only national championship since disassociating with Gilbert in 1981 came in 1995. By the way, the head coach of that team, Jim Harrick, was fired the next year for attempting to cover up a secondary violation, and then he was fired from the Georgia Bulldogs six years later for his role in academic fraud. Meanwhile, the star player on that 1994-1995 team, Ed O’Bannon, filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA in 2014.

So a legitimate argument can be made that there’s a dark side to all 11 UCLA national championships. Can coaches really win there while running a completely clean program? For a guy like Barnes, known for trying to be as clean as possible despite a couple of hiccups, that would be a difficult task.

What about the pay? Well, after deciding to stay with the Vols, ESPN reported last week he is getting a new salary with on Rocky Top worth over $4 million, making him the third highest paid coach in college basketball. This is for a guy who has only one Final Four to his name.

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Sure, the UCLA Bruins offered him $5 million according to reports. But when you factor in likely incentives, the buyout issue and income tax in California, it’s pretty clear that Barnes comes out on top money-wise by staying in Knoxville.

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Finally, you have resources. Believe it or not, this day in age, Tennessee basketball is right on UCLA’s level when it comes to resources to win. Now, the lure of playing in Los Angeles combined the tradition of the program itself will always make UCLA an easier place to recruit top talent than Tennessee. Even in down years, the program consistently gets top 10 recruiting classes.

But the Vols have an athletic budget that can compete with anybody to get the right talent and even the right assistants. Thompson-Boling Arena also has 8,000 more seats than UCLA’s arena, and the Vols averaged over 5,000 more people per game than the Bruins last year. In fact, they had more fan support than UCLA in 2017, when the Bruins were a Sweet 16 team and UT was .500.

Playing on more televised games that reach a wider audience due to the SEC’s TV contracts also helps the Vols now. Simply put, UT has more financial resources than UCLA, making it highly competitive when it comes to overall resources to be able to win.

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Combine that with the competitive pay and the lack of fear over getting fired, and it’s clear that Barnes made the right choice. Where else could you be a top 5 paid coach and not even have top 25 expectations? UCLA is and always will be a better program. But right now, Tennessee basketball is a better job.