KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — "I think I would've been the coach at UCLA."
If UCLA had agreed to pay all of Rick Barnes' $5 million buyout at Tennessee, Barnes thinks he would be in Los Angeles right now.
"A lot of praying went into it, I can tell you that. There was a lot going on. When you get down to a situation like that, it has to make sense from a financial standpoint. It does have to. The bottom line is we just really couldn’t work it out with the buyout," Vols head coach Rick Barnes said in a candid press conference Tuesday.
While having discussions with UCLA, Barnes wanted to make sure he gave Tennessee a fair shot to keep him. Vols' Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer and the Tennessee administration stepped up with an offer comparable to UCLA's offer.
"We weren't going to let somebody come in here and buy our coach," Fulmer said.
"I think it makes a statement for our programs. We've invested here in people and we're in this to compete for championships at the conference and national level. We had a really outstanding, proven person and we weren't just going to let him get away."
Tennessee did its part to keep Barnes, offering a $4.7 million dollar salary to make him the third-highest paid college basketball coach in the country.
In the end, Barnes thought God wanted him to be at Tennessee and he decided to stay. UCLA's inability or unwillingness to pay the full buyout was the clarity Barnes says he needed to make that decision.
"I asked God for total clarity. And when they came back with their decision, I knew that I’m not supposed to be the coach at UCLA," Barnes said. "As soon as that happened, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m good with this,’ because I felt like, again, that God had made it crystal clear that I needed to be at the University of Tennessee. I often wonder, ‘Why do you go through those things?’ But that’s what life is."
"Those situations, they get tough, because they probably felt like they went as far as they could go, I felt I went as far as I could go. But the fact is I’m here because I feel like God wants me here. And I believe that with all my heart.”
After receiving the initial offer from UCLA, Barnes met with Phillip Fulmer on Sunday, April 7 and spent much of that day and Monday praying and deciding what to do.
"It is very emotional. It was hard. You are torn. You think you are leaving. Then you go back and you think about all the things you have to do when you leave. Then you think am I doing it right? The emotions run far and wide," Barnes said.
"I didn’t come out of my house for two days and I lost over five pounds. If that tells you anything. You don’t feel like eating because the whole time you are talking, you're doing this, you are doing that. I have put it back on by the way. The fact is, it is a very emotional time. It really is. I have been through it. I said to someone yesterday, the good thing about it, I am in the last chapter of my coaching career. I’m just glad I don’t have to do it again."
Barnes wasn't doing the negotiating. A long-time financial advisor handled that part for him. In the end, Barnes felt God wanted him at Tennessee.
"I believe He made it very clear through the many people that were praying for us during this time that I am supposed to be at Tennessee. It is beyond this basketball program. I am in love with this community. I am in love with this state. I think we have got a lot of the great things going on in this town and I want to continue to be part of making Knoxville one of the greatest places to live.”
RELATIONSHIP WITH FULMER AND INTEREST IN UCLA
Barnes made it a point to address his relationship with Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer. Rumors swirled that problems between them had something to do with his interest in the UCLA job.
"For anybody to think he hasn’t supported me since I have been here, they are crazy. Where that would come from, I don’t get it. I have watched him come in here and the way he has tried to look at 24 different sports and talk about how he wants every sport on this campus to have everything they need to compete at the highest level, we know that he is working hard with football. I think he has worked hard with basketball. I think he has worked hard with baseball. He has worked hard with everything. I don’t know where that came from," Barnes said.
Barnes mentioned that he has been in a bible study with Fulmer for several years, well before Fulmer took the AD job. The two have talked about Tennessee firing Fulmer and the hurt it caused the former national championship football coach.
Barnes insists his interest in the UCLA job was purely about his respect for that program's history and legendary coach John Wooden, with whom he formed a relationship before Wooden's death.
"Back when I was in eighth grade, my mother and a friend spent $56 to send me to Campbell College basketball camp, which was the oldest camp in the country and still is the oldest basketball camp in the country. And the reason I wanted to go to that camp was John Wooden and Pistol Pete Maravich were the two featured people. That’s the reason I wanted to go. I can remember staying up back in the late ‘60s, when UCLA started doing their games coming on late at night with Dick Enberg. Then obviously when I went to college, my college coach also worked that Campbell College basketball camp through all the years with Coach Wooden. And we ran a portion of the UCLA offense (at Lenoir-Rhyne). So my being really intrigued with the (UCLA) job — I was totally surprised to be quite honest with you — was the fact that I have so much respect for UCLA basketball and what it meant to me growing up. That was really the sole reason it all got started. It was just being intrigued with that basketball program,” Barnes said.