Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes named National Coach of the Year by USBWA

Fresh off leading his team into the Sweet 16 of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes on Monday was named the 2019 Henry Iba Award winner, given annually to the National Coach of the Year as voted on by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

It’s his first national coach of the year honor, and comes after coaching the Volunteers to a 27-4 regular-season record. With four more wins this postseason, the 2018-19 Vols have tied the program’s mark for most wins in a season (31), and would top it with another victory Thursday against Purdue.

Tennessee was No. 1 in the AP poll for four weeks this season, and spent the entire season among the top 10 — a program first. That earned the Vols a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament, equaling the highest seeding in their history.

Barnes, who is also a finalist for Werner Ladder Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year, has developed an elite program at Tennessee in his four years there. The squad hovered around .500 his first two seasons, but finished 26-9 last year before taking another leap this season.

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Barnes joined Tennessee after 17 years at Texas, which followed stops at Clemson and Providence. Over that span, he’s also grown closer to the Lord.

“The most important thing when I get out of bed in the morning is not this job, but to spend some time alone with the Lord and make sure I get my day started the right way,” Barnes said last year. “That’s been the biggest change in my coaching career … The Bible says that there is a lot called, but few are chosen. I want to be one of the chosen ones.”

Some of his players have grown in their faith as well. Earlier this season, Kyle Alexander and Jordan Bowden were baptized. A number of their teammates were there to witness the moment, as was Barnes, who told reporters the next day, “What happened last night with Kyle Alexander and Jordan Bowden (being baptized) is far more important than any win we’ve ever had.”

The player-coach relationship was brought to national attention on Sunday, when Barnes was questioned about keeping one of his best players, Admiral Schofield, on the bench during overtime against Iowa, which had erased a 25-point deficit. Barnes said Schofield took himself out of the game.

“You realize, the players, they have a better feel than anybody in the building,” Barnes said. “And [Schofield] felt like that was the best thing. And Lamonte Turner kept saying the same thing, too. ‘We gotta have Kyle [Alexander] in the game.’

“Normally in those situations, we go with a small lineup, because it’s a pretty efficient lineup. But I trust my players. I do. And the fact that they felt he needed to be in the game, we went with it.”

Tennessee won and advanced. With two more wins, the Tennessee men would reach their first Final Four in program history.

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