AUSTIN, Texas — Rick Barnes doesn’t want Saturday to be about him.
The Vols coach has held that stance since Tennessee basketball and Texas was announced as a pairing in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in June. He still held it Friday.
But first-year Longhorns coach Chris Beard wants at least part of the day to be about Barnes.
“We also want to show coach Barnes the respect that we think he deserves or know he deserves,” Beard said. “I’ve said it before, but in my personal opinion, and I’m only one small person in the whole operation here, but in my personal opinion, he didn’t get the exit from Texas that he deserved. …
“Can’t wait to see coach and just thank him for everything he did for Texas basketball.”
Barnes is leading the No. 20 Vols (14-5) to play at No. 25 Texas (15-5) on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). He remains the winningest coach in Longhorns history, having complied a 402-180 record in 17 seasons. He took Texas to 16 NCAA Tournaments with five Sweet 16 appearances, three Elite Eight bids and a Final Four in 2003.
Barnes was fired in March 2015. He remembered getting different messages from the Texas administration. Ex-Texas athletics director Steve Patterson told Barnes he had to fire his assistant coaches, which Barnes refused to do.
He saw what was coming.
“I had told our players (at Texas) so many times about not quitting that that I didn't think I could quit and just say that I was leaving because that's not how I felt,” Barnes said. “My time was up and they needed to tell me that it was up because I didn't want my players to ever say to me, ‘Coach, why would you quit?’ That was important to me.”
Barnes already had started talking to Tennessee and was lined up to coach the Vols. He boarded a plane after the news conference in Austin and flew to Knoxville. He was introduced as the Tennessee coach two days later.
“It was inevitable,” Barnes said. “It didn't take very long because I knew I wanted to still coach. I still felt that I had the fire to do that and knew that we could be successful with the way we do things.”
Barnes is 137-78 at Tennessee. Saturday marks the first time he has returned to coach against Texas despite being offered the matchup in the annual conference challenge previously. Barnes said in September that he was open to the matchup due to the timing around his grandson's birthday and the fact Texas is closing the Erwin Center, its long-time basketball arena.
Barnes has spent plenty of time in Austin in the past seven years. His daughter, Carley, and her husband, Josh Lickteig, and Barnes’ four grandchildren, Avery, Caleb, Emma and Isla, live in Austin.
He was in Austin during the summer and Don Evans, who was on the board at the University of Texas when Barnes was hired, drove him around the campus showing him changes. Barnes texted Chris Ogden, who is one of Beard’s assistants and was on Barnes’ staff at both Tennessee and Texas. Ogden had Barnes come by the practice facility and showed him around.
Barnes expects arriving at Erwin Center one last time Saturday will trigger some emotions, starting during shootaround and more when the Vols walk down the ramp to the court. He then stressed again it is not about him, but his team playing a key game.
“We look forward to these games every year,” guard Josiah-Jordan James said. “But this year is especially big for coach. We know we want to go in there and play for each other but also go in there and do it for him, as he has left an amazing legacy at the University of Texas.”
That will be celebrated Saturday in a manner that it wasn’t in 2015.
"I know when they introduce this really good Tennessee team, I know I’ll be right there with everybody else thanking coach Barnes in the appropriate way,” Beard said.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Rick Barnes will get spotlight in Tennessee basketball vs. Texas