Rick Barnes’ first season at Tennessee was his worst since the he led Clemson to a 15-win season in 1994-95.
Under Barnes, who has been a head coach at the college level for 29 years, the Volunteers posted a 15-19 record and finished 12th in the SEC. The result came after 17 seasons at Texas where he led the Longhorns to a combined 402-180 record, making the NCAA tournament in all but one season. Entering his second with the Vols, Barnes hopes to turn around what he described as an “unstable situation” at Tennessee.
“We all know that it’s been a pretty unstable situation at Tennessee the last couple years,” Barnes said on Monday’s SEC teleconference. “One, the university needs stability. The players need stability. So I think the longer you are there and once you get your program going and you get the culture set that you want set it’s just a matter of every year you are trying to improve.
“And I have always said that you always want to leave it better than got it. But I think about it every day of the week, I think you have to want to make the day better than yesterday. And once you do that and build that kind of culture it just permeates the entire program. It goes into recruiting, it goes into every aspect of the program.”
Things won’t get any easier for the Vols this season, as they lost their leading scorer in Kevin Punter (22.2 points per game) and have eight new faces joining just three upperclassmen in 2016.
Barnes will look to players such as senior Robert Hubbs III and sophomores Kyle Alexander, Admiral Schofield and Shembari Phillips to assume leadership roles and guide Tennessee’s six new freshmen — a luxury last year’s incoming class did not have, according to Barnes.
“What we ask them to do as much as anything is when these younger guys came on campus was to teach them the way in terms of what it’s going to take and learn from the mistakes that they made a year ago,” Barnes said. “I think they would be very forthright in telling you that nobody really took them under their wing a year ago because I think the guys that were coming back had no idea how to take them under their wing. This year, our returning players know how to do that and I told them we are going to see what kind of leaders they are, which will tell us what kind of team we are going to have with the way they embrace these freshmen.”