On the surface, one wouldn't think Rick Barnes need to be worrying about his job security at the University of Texas. Afterall he took over a Texas basketball program in 1998 and has won 3 Big 12 Coach of the Year awards combined with a Final Four appearance in 2003. But if you take a look at his two most recent seasons some could argue that the best days for Barnes and the Texas program with him at the helm are behind them.
So the question becomes if Barnes & the Longhorns have another disappointing season how much of a hot seat could he be under at a place that doesn't accept losing well.
Let's delve a little deeper into this.
Faced with huge expectations entering the 09-10 season, Texas rose all the way to the #1 ranking before losing on the road to Kansas State which started a constant freefall down and eventually all the way out of the rankings. While no one could argue that the Longhorns had talent on their team with NBA draft picks in Damion James & Dexter Pittman along with big time recruits like Jordan Hamilton, the formation of a true team never seemed to occur. The Longhorns faded all the way to a conference record of 9-7 and an eventual first round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Wake Forest. The previous season Texas went 9-7 in conference play and bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the 2nd round losing to the Duke Blue Devils.
So one could argue, with a good amount of validity, that two seasons where a team finishes above .500 in conference play and makes the NCAA tourney shouldn't be looked at as a negative. If this were Nebraska or Colorado then this story would most likely be discussing the coach looking to get a contract extension for more money, but this is Texas. At programs like KU or Texas finishing in the middle of the pack in consecutive seasons isn't looked upon the same way as most every other program in the nation.
Another argument in Barnes favor is that he consistently reels in big time recruits that have a lot of stars next to their names from the recruiting services. In 2009 he had two 5 star recruits in Hamilton & Avery Bradley, along with two 4 star recruits in J'Covan Brown & Shawn Williams. This coming season he welcomes in another 5 star player in PF Tristan Thompson along with 5 star PG Cory Joseph. In addition Barnes already has one 5 star recruit and two 4 star recruits committed for 2011. So the talent coming into Austin is obviously highly regarded but the past few years one could watch Texas play and get a feeling that the pieces put together by the coaching staff just didn't work well together, which reflects back on the head coach.
What are the main arguments one could state against Barnes if the Longhorns come out and finish in the middle of the conference for a 3rd straight year? In his 12 seasons in Austin the Longhorns have lost to a lower ranked team in the NCAA Tourney 8 out of those 12 times, a fact that upsets some fans. Also during his tenure, Texas has never won the Big 12 conference tournament and their last outright Big 12 regular season title was way back in 1999. In fact, Barnes program may not even be the best in the state of Texas anymore with Scott Drew seemingly having the Baylor program up and running in Waco and Mark Turgeon poised to compete annually in College Station with Texas A&M.
With the Big 12 going to a round robin format in the future, wins may become even harder to come by for Barnes, as well as every other coach. No longer will Texas be able to play KU & KSU, whom they have had trouble with, only once a season but will have to play them twice (pleasing Brent Musberger greatly!)
The University of Texas is obviously a behemoth in the college athletics landscape not just in football and basketball but in virtually all sports. With their football program seemingly playing in a BCS game every year under Mack Brown will their fans be able to accept anything less than an upper echelon finish every season in basketball. Can Barnes expect to be granted the leeway he presumably should have earned from his previous accomplishments?
So the final question the University of Texas and their fans must ask themselves:
Is Rick Barnes the coach you feel can win you a national title?