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Ben Garrett

Write. Hike. Eat. Repeat.

I am a 30-something journalist from East Tennessee. My wife and I (and our twins, and dog, and 3 hermit crabs) reside on the eastern boundary of the Big South Fork, where I am editor-publisher of the hometown newspaper and she is an elementary school teacher.

Well, that’s weird

A toll road in Scott County? Polar bears to be introduced in the Great Smoky Mountains?

You can’t believe anything you read today…even on the usually-reliable internet.

Tennessee’s whirlwind coaching search concludes

Texas Barnes colo

That certainly didn’t take long.

Just 96 hours after Donnie Tyndall was fired, Tennessee has a new basketball coach: Rick Barnes.

Multiple media outlets, including the Knoxville News Sentinel and radio personality Jimmy Hyams, are reporting that Tennessee has finalized a deal with the former Texas head coach and will formally introduce Barnes at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

If this seems like a whirlwind coaching search for Tennessee, it has been even moreso for Barnes. It’s been fewer than 72 hours since Barnes was fired by the University of Texas after a 17-year stint there that included 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.

It’s been a bizarre 96 hours on several fronts. When Tennessee fired Tyndall on Friday, the Vols were left in what seemed to be an abysmal situation. UT had just fired its second coach (out of its last three) for cheating, the talent cupboard in Knoxville is rather bare, and the program seems to be in a state of disarray. What quality coach, fans rightly wondered, would want to come to Knoxville to coach this team? 

But rewind to UT athletic director Dave Hart’s press conference on Friday and you might have your first clue that this search would conclude as it did. It didn’t receive much play at the time, but Hart said that he would be willing to pay for his next coach.

When asked about whether Tennessee was prepared to pay a large amount to get the coach it prefers, Hart answered: “Yes. I am and we are as an institution. But I will say this, I don’t know what that ceiling might ultimately be. But we are willing to get into that marketplace, yes.”

Why was that important? Most Tennessee fans, and most prognosticators, had resigned themselves to the inevitability that Tennessee would make a bargain basement hire; an up-and-comer with a lot of potential but one who would not command a large salary. For instance, Chattanooga coach Will Wade was most often mentioned as a possible replacement for Tyndall. He’s a terrific young coach with lots of potential, but he makes a base salary of less than $200,000 at Chattanooga. It was probably safe to assume that Tennessee could hire someone like Wade for around $1.5 million. And, yet, Hart was indicating that Tennessee was willing to go out and spend more than the $1.6 million that Tyndall was making at Tennessee.

The second clue was when Barnes was fired by Texas 24 hours later. In his own press conference, Barnes was asked if he would ever coach again. His response was a slight grin, and: “Quicker than you think.”

That was significant. Does that sound like a coach who is confident that he already knows what his future holds? 

There has been some speculation that Tennessee reached out to Barnes before Barnes was officially fired by Texas just 24 hours after Tennessee fired Tyndall. The fact that the timeline was so extremely tight lends credence to that speculation, especially when you consider the comments that Hart and Barnes made in their respective pressers. Remember, Barnes was on the hot seat and presumed a dead man walking in Austin long before he was officially fired. There isn’t always smoke behind the fire — this is the internet, after all. But, in this case, it certainly appears that Dave Hart knew who he wanted as soon as he knew he had to fire Tyndall . . . which is while the rest of us were still speculating over whether Tennessee would hire Will Wade or Brad Underwood. (Well, not all of us; a few of us were hoping against hope that UT would hire Bruce Pearl.)

What we do know, based on what VolQuest reported yesterday, is that Barnes was in Knoxville as soon as Sunday evening to begin discussions with Hart and other UT decision-makers. That was just one day after he was fired by Texas. Hart said at Friday’s press conference that he would employ a search firm for the first time in his career. On Monday, it was reported who that search firm would be, but it certainly appears that by that point, the search firm wasn’t even needed. A plane owned by a UT booster flew to Austin late Monday, presumably to pick up Barnes’ family and return them to Knoxville for an introduction, an indication that UT and Barnes had already agreed on principle at that point. And, this morning, that agreement was apparently cemented, paving the way for Barnes to be introduced as Tyndall’s successor.

By most accounts, this is a home run hire for Hart and the Vols. As multiple prognosticators have pointed out, the stars aligned perfectly for Tennessee — for a change. Not only did a big-name coach become available at a time when Tennessee needed one, but the Vols don’t have to pay his buyout. 

Barnes led Texas to NCAA Tournament appearances in 16 of his 17 seasons there. He was also an NCAAT regular at Clemson and Providence. As ESPN’s Chris Low pointed out, he’s made more NCAAT appearances in his career (22) than UT has made in the history of its program (20). He led the Longhorns to a Final Four and two Elite Eight appearances, the program’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking . . . and, perhaps most notably, recruited Kevin Durant to Austin.

Of course, his Texas teams were also noted for underachieving, which makes Tennessee fans a bit antsy. If he couldn’t win in Texas, they ask, how will he win in Knoxville? Barnes caught flack late this season when, exasperated by his team’s performance, he told reporters that his players weren’t “listening.” That causes some to wonder — and perhaps fairly — whether the game has passed by the 60-year-old Barnes.

On the other hand, Barnes was the Big 12 coach of the year as recently as last season, when his Longhorns were predicted to finish eighth in the conference and actually finished third.

It’s clear that Hart is shooting for program stability with this hire. Even if Barnes cannot take Tennessee to the next level, his track record as a coach virtually assures that he can stabilize the program, recruit quality players and get the team to the NCAA Tournament — all of which make it easier for Tennessee to lure a proven winner to Knoxville to replace Barnes in a few years, when he’s finished coaching. Most importantly, given Tennessee’s own track record of late: Barnes has no history of NCAA troubles.

Dave Hart deserves a lot of credit for how he master-minded this entire transition. He’s taken a lot of flack from UT fans for hiring Tyndall in the first place — and, during his press conference on Friday, he took responsibility for that hire. But fans who are judging that hire are doing so with the benefit of hindsight. Sure, Tyndall had NCAA troubles at Morehead State. Sure, I was a little skeptical of his past. But UT fans were clamoring for Tennessee to bring back Bruce Pearl — and consider me among those who would’ve been thrilled by that hire — and Pearl had the same number of NCAA run-ins as Tyndall at that point. No one knew of Tyndall’s looming problem at Southern Miss — including the NCAA, which was contacted by UT as part of the vetting process of Tyndall.

Meanwhile, Hart pressed the NCAA to fill the university in on where things stood with Tyndall and Southern Miss following the conclusion of this season. The NCAA’s report was not flattering for Tyndall, indicating that he will face serious sanctions once that Southern Miss investigation is complete. That allowed Hart to go ahead and pull the trigger on Tyndall’s termination while the coaching market was still hot. More importantly, it allowed him to go ahead and make the move before his top target — Barnes — became unavailable.

The result is a good hire for the University of Tennessee. And that can’t be glossed over. It’s a much less risky hire than Will Wade or any of the other potential candidates. It’s a good, solid hire. Time will tell if it’s a great hire.

They don’t come any better than this

The great thing about this time of year is the cold air doesn’t have much staying power, most of the time. It was a bone-chilling 20 degrees this morning here on the northern Cumberland Plateau, but we were into the mid 50s by this afternoon, and we’ll get even warmer as we go through the next few days.

And that sky… Brilliant blue sky without a cloud to be seen made for a spectacular afternoon to be outside. I spent it hiking a trail for the Independent Herald’s “Twenty Week Hiking Challenge” and then documenting some graves in the Katy Blevins Cemetery in Big South Fork. It’s a cemetery I can visit for a long time and just get caught up in the history that surrounds each of the tombstones. 

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Part II: This guy for Tennessee coach?

Chi texas fires rick barnes bkc basketball spt 20150328

When Texas ended speculation by firing Rick Barnes yesterday, you knew it wouldn’t be long before chatter would start about the possibility of him winding up at Tennessee. And, indeed:

As a general rule, you don’t want a retread when you’re rebuilding a basketball program. But that’s just a general rule, and Tennessee’s situation is hardly ordinary. With a talent cupboard that’s pretty bare, the Bruce Pearl stigma still looming over Knoxville and the prospect of having a third coach in three seasons, Tennessee can’t go out and cherry-pick its next coach. Dave Hart doesn’t have that luxury. So that leaves a decision: A retread, or an up-and-comer.

Pick an up-and-comer like Chattanooga’s Will Wade or Stephen F. Austin’s Brad Underwood, and you’re taking a gamble. Usually (and certainly it’s the case with both of those guys) there’s a high upside to those hires, but there’s always a significant downside as well (see Derek Dooley). Schools often take risks on those types of coaches because they’re hoping to find a diamond in the rough on the cheap (see Mike Hamilton) or because they simply don’t have any other option.

In this case, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart has another option. Proven winners might not leave their current job to inherit the mess at Tennessee, but unemployed winners would.

And Rick Barnes has made it clear, based on the tweets above from college basketball insiders, that he wants to coach again — and soon.

That alone makes Barnes unique. Often times, coaches who are fired prefer to take a year or two or three off; study up on a game that may have changed enough to pass them by while they were employed, enjoy a steady paycheck from the comfortable confines of an ESPN studio, and rest up while preparing for their next job to come along.

So why not Rick Barnes?

After 17 years at Texas (and an assortment of other jobs, including four years at Clemson), Barnes has won more than 600 games and boasts a career winning percentage of .656. He coached the Longhorns to 16 NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 seasons, including two Elite Eights and one Final Four.

Granted, he did not make it to the Elite Eight after 2008, and a couple of really talented Texas teams flamed out early in the Dance. He also did not win the Big 12 after 2008, and finished no higher than 3rd in the conference after 2011.

But he also had no fewer than 20 wins in any of his seasons at Texas, with the exception of 2013′s 16-18 team that landed him on the hot seat in the first place. He rebounded to finish 24-11 in 2014 and was 20-14 this season.

You might beg the question, “If he can’t meet expectations in the Big 12,” how is he going to do it against the likes of Kentucky and Florida and the SEC — which is consistently getting stronger with teams hiring better coaches? And that’s a fair question. It’s a question which leaves me thinking that either Wade or Underwood would be a better option for the Vols. But if you’re not a riverboat gambler; if you’re an athletic director who wants a coach with less upside but with significantly less risk — someone who can at least stabilize the program even if he can’t get it over the hump — then you go with a Rick Barnes.

Of course Tennessee isn’t the only Power 5 job vacancy right now . . . not even within the SEC. Alabama is not a better basketball job than Tennessee long-term, but at the present time, it is. And Barnes is 60 years old, so he isn’t going to coach forever . . . meaning short-term might be good enough for him. If Alabama is interested and Tennessee is interested, he just might choose Alabama over Tennessee.

Then again, if you’re looking for a place with better facilities, better tradition, a better track record of basketball support from a football school, and a place where you don’t have to compete for attention with a coach who has his own statue on campus, then you just might choose Tennessee over Alabama.

This man for UT hoops?

Wade will 2013 06 1

As Tennessee’s basketball coaching search begins, don’t be surprised if it centers on this guy: UT-Chattanooga’s Will Wade.

Don’t scoff. Wade can coach, and despite his youth he has some pretty serious experience.

First, we should establish that Tennessee is not going to land a top shelf coach. Bruce Pearl isn’t coming back to Knoxville. Gregg Marshall isn’t going to leave Wichita State for Knoxville, and Brad Stevens isn’t going to leave his lofty NBA job to come back to the college ranks. Those “other names” that always seem to come up — like Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Xavier’s Chris Mack — aren’t coming to Knoxville either. (Neither is VCU’s Shaka Smart, in case you’re wondering.) 

So where does that leave Tennessee? Looking for a mid-major (or even low-major) up-and-comer. Think guys like Stephen F. Austin’s Brad Underwood. Or Chattanooga’s Will Wade.

Wade is a young guy (he’s younger than me, so that makes him really young) , but he had already made his mark in college basketball before he became the head coach at Chattanooga in 2013. He spent four years on Smart’s staff at VCU, where he helped Smart build VCU into a national brand. In fact, he was Smart’s first hire after Smart took the head coaching job at VCU in 2009. The two had gotten to know each other during their time together at Clemson, where Smart was an assistant coach and Wade was a staff member at his alma mater.

While at VCU, Wade earned a reputation as a tireless recruiter, helping Smart and VCU lock down some of college basketball’s top recruiting classes outside the Power 5 conferences. During his time as an assistant there, VCU won more than 70 percent of its games and advanced to the 2011 Final Four.

Wade took over the Chattanooga program in 2013 and immediately made it better. The Mocs finished 13-19 the year before he arrived. In his first season, they finished 18-15 and earned an invitation to the CIT. This season, the Mocs finished with a 22-10 record, including 15-3 in conference play.

Wade is a Tennessee guy, having grown up in Nashville. His brand of basketball is fan-friendly — up-tempo, in-your-face. 

And he’s cheap. He makes less than $200,000 at Chattanooga.

Earlier this month, Wade was linked to the job opening at UNC-Charlotte. But he ultimately turned down the school.

A lot of UT fans aren’t going to be happy with any coach not named Bruce Pearl. Even a lot of more reasonable UT fans aren’t going to be happy with a coach who doesn’t have national name recognition. But don’t be too quick to roll your eyes at Will Wade. A lot of programs could do worse. And given the current state of affairs in Knoxville, Tennessee could do much, much worse.

Tyndall is out at Tennessee

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The Donnie Tyndall era at the University of Tennessee is over.

The move comes on the heels of UT administrators’ meeting with the NCAA yesterday regarding its findings in the Southern Miss investigation. Here is a brief statement tweeted by the official account of UT basketball: 

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Tyndall’s contract with UT allowed him to be fired with cause — meaning Tennessee will not owe him a buyout — if he was found guilty of Level I or Level II violations.

More on that in a moment.

I’ve said all along that Tennessee should fire Tyndall if he was implicated in the NCAA’s findings in the Southern Miss investigation. Even if it was obvious he would not receive a show-cause penalty, he should’ve been fired because he placed both of his two previous coaching stops in NCAA hot water. That’s a dangerous behavior pattern that would suggest it’s only a matter of time before he gets Tennessee in NCAA hot water as well. So while the UT basketball program could easily withstand a suspension of Tyndall for several games or even up to half a season, it would be better to be proactive.

So I don’t have a problem with the university’s decision. Still, it is a very unfortunate situation for the basketball program. Tyndall’s team proved this season that he is a very good Xs and Os coach. Given the talent that Cuonzo Martin left in Knoxville when he bolted for California, it’s a minor miracle that Tyndall was even able to assemble a competitive team. But he did that, putting a product on the court that defeated No. 15 Butler, a Top 25 Arkansas team and finished with five road wins in SEC play. And, as VolQuest.com pointed out this morning, did it all with the cloud of NCAA uncertainty hanging over the program. Had Tyndall been able to stay in place as UT’s coach, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have returned the program to the level Bruce Pearl had it at before his run-in with the NCAA. As it stands now, the program is looking for its third coach in three seasons, with a roster that is short on talent, and there aren’t going to be many top shelf coaches who are willing to even take a second look at the job.

With all that said, let’s point out a few obvious takeaways from this morning’s development: 

1.) Although Tyndall’s contract allowed him to be fired for a serious violation, consistent reports all along had indicated that UT athletics director Dave Hart and the school’s key boosters (think Haslam) were willing to stand by Tyndall even if he was to be forced to serve a suspension. So what does that tell us? That the NCAA indicated to Hart that Tyndall will receive a show-cause penalty that effectively bans him from coaching for a period of time? If so, the NCAA double standard has again reared its ugly head — not that any of us should be surprised. Remember, Missouri coach Frank Haith lied to the NCAA about far more serious violations than Bruce Pearl lied about; Haith received a five-game suspension and Pearl received a three-year show-cause penalty. Just last month, the NCAA found Syracuse guilty of a decade’s worth of rules violations — on the whole, much more severe than even the cumulative findings from Southern Miss and Morehead State, Tyndall’s two previous stops. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was hit with a nine-game suspension, and now Tyndall has been show-caused? We don’t know for sure Tyndall will be hit with the show-cause penalty, but it’s probably a fairly safe assumption.

2.) The armchair quarterbacks (armchair point guards?) are quick to levy blame on Hart this morning. That was a given, since this thing blew up under his watch, but it’s probably also unfair. I was skeptical from the beginning of UT’s hire of Tyndall due to his NCAA troubles at Morehead State. But here’s why I can’t blame Hart: I would’ve been perfectly OK, as would most other UT fans, with bringing back Bruce Pearl. Pearl himself was an NCAA felon, who had the exact same number of NCAA run-ins as Tyndall did at that point. Remember, the Southern Miss allegations didn’t surface until last fall; no one saw that coming. It’s easy to say that Tennessee should’ve gone after someone with a squeaky clean record, but all of us who wanted Pearl back lose the right to make that argument.

3.) It’s not going to be Pearl this time, either. Let’s face it: that ship has sailed. It’s left the harbor. Nothing would delight me more than seeing Pearl come back to Knoxville. And as someone who believes in second chances (but not third chances), I would be okay with it. But a.) I don’t think Pearl would leave Auburn at this point; if we know anything about him from his time at Tennessee, it’s that he’s loyal, and b.) Hart just isn’t going to hire him. Hart can’t hire him — not from a public relations standpoint. Can you imagine the stigma that would be attached to firing one NCAA felon so that you can go and hire another? I love Bruce Pearl, but it ain’t happening, and any UT fans who get their hopes up are conducting an exercise in futility…not to mention prepping themselves for another letdown. 

4.) It isn’t going to be Gregg Marshall, either. The Wichita State coach has rebuffed a number of major programs — including Tennessee. If he wouldn’t come here last year, he certainly isn’t coming here this year.

5.) So who does that leave? Good question. Chances are, Tennessee will have to dip deep into the bottom of the barrel. The best name left on the board last year was Louisiana Tech’s Michael White. And it’s still a good name. LaTech finished first in Conference USA in the regular season again this year, and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals, with an overall record of 27-9. If you believe numerous reports, Tennessee could’ve landed White last year, but Hart fouled things up. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. But once you screw the pooch, you typically don’t get a second chance. And if Hart didn’t mess it up, that means White wasn’t too interested in Tennessee in the first place. Either way, if he didn’t come last year’s he’s probably not coming now — and that goes for several other coaches whose names we’re likely to hear mentioned, including guys at places like Cincinnati and VCU. 

Yum, yum

Possum

Merganser? Shad? Bowfin? Groundhog? Possum? Field & Stream seeks to broaden our culinary horizons:

Our grandparents didn’t turn their snouts up at some of the lesser creatures to wind up in a cooler. Maybe it’s time we all threw a possum on the grill if for no other reason than to see what we’re missing.

Do you notice the common ingredient in more than one of those recipes? Bacon! What is it with bacon? Is that like the end-all, cure-all for bad meat? Want to make goose taste better? Wrap it in bacon! Dove? Wrap it in bacon! Why don’t we just skip the less-than-savory meat and eat bacon for supper?!? 

Men arrested for firing on officer

From the Orlando Sentinel comes a name that’s familiar to this area and familiar to the comments section of this blog. From Oneida to suburban Orlando, he seems to manage to turn up in the thick of things:

At about 3:30 a.m. Friday, Officer Gerry Garrett was watching traffic on Vine Street when he noticed a man holding a rifle in a black Mustang convertible with its top down, records show.

“I observed the back seat passenger … point the long barreled rifle directly at me in the parking lot,” Garret wrote. The other two males were also pointing directly at me and my marked patrol vehicle. I then heard a loud bang.”

Garrett dropped on the seat for protection.

“As my heart pounded, I looked up and (saw) the Mustang rapidly speeding away,” wrote Garrett, who chased the fleeing car north across Kissimmee as other police cars rushed to assist.

‘No longer on top’

For a Cumberland Plateau community besieged by a terrible unemployment, a positive step forward . . .

A’hiking we will go…

Hiking

Who’s hiking? The young, the old, the in-between, the pregnant (and the crippled, and cancer patients, unpictured), business owners, doctors (and lawyers and such), and community groups. 

By my rough estimate, more than 400 made the hike to Sunset Overlook, and hikers have already started making the trek to this week’s destination — Yahoo Falls.

Posts on this page
  • Well, that's weird
  • Tennessee's whirlwind coaching search concludes
  • They don't come any better than this
  • Part II: This guy for Tennessee coach?
  • This man for UT hoops?
  • Tyndall is out at Tennessee
  • Yum, yum
  • Men arrested for firing on officer
  • 'No longer on top'
  • A'hiking we will go...
Posts on this page
  • Well, that's weird
  • Tennessee's whirlwind coaching search concludes
  • They don't come any better than this
  • Part II: This guy for Tennessee coach?
  • This man for UT hoops?
  • Tyndall is out at Tennessee
  • Yum, yum
  • Men arrested for firing on officer
  • 'No longer on top'
  • A'hiking we will go...