Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes will be released after yet another quick exit from the postseason, people with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Saturday.
The decision came after Texas athletic director Steve Patterson and Barnes met Saturday, according to the people who requested anonymity because the school wasn’t expected to make a formal announcement before Sunday.
The 60-year-old Barnes shaped Texas into a national basketball power with three Big 12 championships and 16 NCAA tournament appearances in 17 years. He had four years left on his contract at $2.65 million per year and will receive a severance of $1.75 million under his contract because he is being released before April 1.
Barnes didn’t immediately respond to text and telephone messages seeking comment.
Barnes built a program with NBA-level talent that reached the Final Four in 2003 and produced two national Players of the Year in T.J. Ford (2003) and Kevin Durant (2007). Barnes also led Texas within one game of the Final Four in 2005 and 2008.
But while the program continued to win, and even reached its first No. 1 ranking in the 2009-2010 season, the Longhorns have struggled in the postseason in recent years despite rosters full of future NBA players.
Texas hasn’t advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2008. The latest defeat was this season’s opening-round loss to Butler. Texas had much higher hopes when the Longhorns began the season ranked in the top 10, only to limp through a ragged season and barely scrape their way into the tournament.
Barnes’ 17-year tenure was the longest in the Big 12. He’s 604-314 in 28 seasons overall and won 402 games at Texas.
Texas was mostly a basketball afterthought when it hired Barnes from Clemson in 1997. He dumped Tom Penders’ free-wheeling offense with a tough, defense-first mentality that immediately produced Texas’ first Big 12 regular-season title in 1999.
But while Barnes brought a new game plan to the court, it was his ability to land some of the biggest recruits in the country that paid the biggest dividends. Barnes recruited a litany of top talent to a "football school," none bigger than Ford and Durant.
The zenith was the 2003 Final Four where the Longhorns lost to eventual national champion Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony.
The program was still humming when Durant won national player of the year honors as a freshman in 2007. Even after he left, Texas won a share of its third Big 12 title under Barnes and was regularly among the top programs in the country. By midway through the 2009-2010 season, a 17-0 start earned the Longhorns the program’s first No. 1 ranking.
But that season ended in disappointment as the Longhorns limped to a 24-10 finish and a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament. That started a period of stagnation for a program that had become used to success, and while Barnes’ teams were good, many saw them as failing to live up to high expectations.
Barnes’ only losing season came in 2012-2013, but he turned that around with a surprising 24-11 finish the next season. That rebound, and the return of every starter with highly-touted recruit Myles Turner, landed Texas in the top 10 to start this season.
Texas reached as high as No. 6 before Christmas, but had a much rougher time in once Big 12 play began, finishing 8-10 in the conference.
Barnes and Patterson met three times this week about the job and the future of the program.
By firing Barnes, Patterson now must make another high-profile hire barely more than a year on the job. Texas pushed out football coach Mack Brown in December 2014, barely a month after Patterson was hired to replace longtime athletic director DeLoss Dodds.
Patterson will have an attractive program to sell.
Texas is the wealthiest athletic program in the country and will soon build a new basketball arena to replace the nearly 40-year-old Frank Erwin Center. And any new coach will land in the middle of a state rich in high school basketball talent.