Tennessee's most interesting man has Rocky Top dreaming big
In the world of Tennessee athletics, it's safe to say that Vol basketball coach Rick Barnes is the most interesting person on the Big Orange planet.
A conversation with Barnes could include any topic. Whatever the subject, Barnes has a story about it. He knows someone who's framed the landscape of that topic. The topic could be anything from cars, to world leaders, to hole in the wall restaurants from where ever to Hickory, North Carolina.
As entertaining as “storytime with Rick” is and trust me it could be a television or radio show, Barnes' humor and pranks are more than legendary. Leave your keys laying around and Barnes might move your car anywhere on campus. Barnes always has a prank or a joke, but when the practice horn buzzes, Tennessee's most interesting guy, becomes arguably Rocky Top's most focused guy.
“Intense, sense of humor. Extreme intensity. Extreme sense of humor,” assistant coach Michael Schwartz said when asked to describe his former coach turned boss.
“He's very passionate so he doesn't joke when it is in between the lines,” redshirt Lamonte Turner added. “When people say when he gets between the lines nothing else matters, he's the poster guy for that. He could joke with you right there standing in that orange and you step across the line and he could tell you to run suicides. It's that quick. I have seen it. I think it's just because he loves the game. His real personality is off the court but when he gets between the lines he loves the game and has so much passion he becomes so serious. I just have learned to understand that. Off the court he has a joke for everything. You are never going to out joke coach Barnes.”
Rick Barnes is entering his 33rd year as a head coach. His passion for the game and his passion for his players is as strong as it's ever been.
“I was fortunate to play for coach so I have the perspective of 20 years ago,” Schwartz said. “I got my coaching career start with him. That perspective has allowed me to see that he is the same now, with more experience, as he was then in terms of energy, passion, and drive. Most importantly the standards and culture he sets in his program is no different now than it was then. Situations are different. The game has changed. He's made all the necessary adjustments in those areas but from the standpoint of culture and standards, these guys, this game, the program and University that's paramount to him. It always has been and that's how he's always coached.”
It's the yin and yang of Rick Barnes. It's a rare combination of transparency, fun loving and drive to win at the highest level. For Turner, it's an approach that he admits caught him off guard when he arrived.
“My first practice ever here, he kicked me out of practice,” Turner recalls shaking his head. “Literally my first practice. I had just gotten eligible and I was excited. He kicks me out. I was like the world is over. I'm crying and sad. Then after practice, he says, 'I'm going to tell you I love you'. I was like what? Coach that is too quick of a turnaround. Practice just ended and you tell me you love me. I was thinking he was going to tell me I was done or something. Early on I didn't understand it. I would say probably in the middle of my sophomore year, I had a conversation with coach one night after film. It was one of those nights, I was in the gym shooting alone, he came in and was critiquing me and talking to me. After that night, I reallized he really just loves me and wants the best for me. I probably took me a couple of years to understand it.”
Turner, who daily still feels the wrath of Barnes, said it's important to understand the yin and the yang of Barnes acknowledging ultimately what the head coach is truly about.
“He's intense. He's cool. He's funny. He's mean. He's nice,” said Turner. “He is just so many different things but you love him at the end of the day. He loves you. He loves the game. He loves your game. He loves everything the game stands for. You have to respect that.
Rooted in respect for everyone, Barnes fun loving personality off the court and intensity on the court is a rare blend in today's world.
“That's what makes coach Barnes, coach Barnes,” Schwartz said. “That's what makes him one in a million. Intense, coaching hard, standards and expectations and detail to the highest level. Sense of humor, cutting up to the highest level. You know what, I'm still trying to figure him out.”