Shelley Griffith

Shelley Griffith

Here we go again. The college basketball season is barely in the books and the coaching carousel is burning up the midway.

We Rocky Top fanatics have been inundated with the travails of Rick Barnes, the leader of the very successful Tennessee men’s team.

Rick, fired from Texas after a long stint, has been a Big Orange fixture for four years and, in that time, has taken a group of non-top 100 kids to the pinnacle of men’s hoops. This past season produced some of the most exciting play in memory and sealed this bunch of young men as one of the very best in the history of UT basketball.

For this amazing performance, Barnes was named national coach of the year, not once, but twice, a not so common feat. We all knew there would be heavy discussions regarding his future on the hill.

UCLA came courting with a big offer and Phil Fulmer, general of all things athletic at UT, called Barnes in and countered the Bruins by upping the ante to $4.5 million, a 38 percent hike over this year. Add in bonus payments for certain objectives and Barnes, age 64, knew he needed to finish here as a Vol For Life.

Fulmer also had to fire his good friend, Holly Warlick, after seven seasons. She faced the impossible task of replacing the greatest women’s coach in history, Pat Summitt. Though she started well in her first three campaigns, she continued to falter like a thoroughbred race horse in the last four furlongs and wound up out of the money.

I hope she can land on her feet somewhere else.

We Lady Vol fans will be following closely the transition from the Holly to Jolly era as Kellie Jolly Harper returns home to hopefully put the train back on the track. The $60,000 increase in salary ($750,000 yearly) Phil gave to her over Holly’s doesn’t come close to the other outrageous numbers doled out, but, hey, that’s another column for another time.

The SEC men’s coaching ranks will look different next season as Avery Johnson (Alabama), Billy Kennedy (Texas A&M) and Bryce Drew (Vanderbilt) all picked up their pink slips this week.

There are 45 jobs available at the head coaching level at various sized schools around the country. The amount of dough being hurled at the top coaches, who really are not going anywhere, is mind numbing.

John Calipari, even with stains on his record at UMass and Memphis, has become the most popular Kentuckian since Henry Clay and Jim Beam. His new “lifetime” contract has created much ado among talking heads on all fronts.

I am sorry they are paying him only $9-plus million yearly, because I really wanted to see a coach break the double digit mark. His $2.5 million bonus every July is going to make him even happier in the Big Blue Nation.

Mike Krzyzewski, Mr. Sourpuss, only hauls down $7-plus big ones as the number two dog in the kennel. Barnes now occupies the third highest, a nice leap from number 14 this season.

Rounding out the next two spots in our multimillionaire top five hit list are: Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Tony Bennett of the new national champs Virginia and Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks, each banking $4.1 to $4.3 million annually.

Since I have never figured out the reasoning behind coaching salaries, bonuses, buyouts, etc., most of you who follow this would like for me to quit talking about all of this. Just let it be — “It is what it is.”

But, where would we guys be without some ability to pontificate about sports when we get together? I thoroughly enjoy being the least informed in my group of sports-talk buds. I learn a lot by listening and find the whole subject interesting enough to keep on doing so. You fellows know who you are, so thanks for the info.

Will more money make for a better team, season, or fan base? Of course, all that remains to be seen. Tennessee’s men packed in an average of 19,034 per home contest, second only to the 2009-10 squad. This placed our guys in the top five nationally and brought a boatload of bucks into the coffers.

I like Rick Barnes, having heard him in the press room on more than one occasion. I think he is the typical dad/grandad figure I look for in a coach. He has, and will continue, to shape young lives way beyond the hardwood and that should be what it’s all about.

So no matter your, or my, philosophy about coaching salaries, the beat goes on and will for a long, long time. The Final Four is within reach and beating Cal and the Cats is always a joy — though I do share my Big Blue son-in-law’s affinity for them when they don’t play us.

I can say to Rick: Thanks for staying with us and we wish you the best. I am grateful for this year’s special memories and I’ll look forward to seeing you on up the road for the next edition of Barnesball.

Dr. Shelley Griffith is a retired Athens physician who writes this column for The DPA.

Dr. Shelley Griffith is a retired Athens physician who writes this column for The DPA.

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