Life as a fan of the Tennessee Vols is never easy.
On Sunday morning, Tennessee fans likely thought their biggest concern about the basketball program was the impending departure of Admiral Schofield and the potential early departures of Jordan Bone and Grant Williams.
Then the rumor mill started.
247Sports reported on Sunday evening that Rick Barnes has emerged as a serious candidate to replace Steve Alford as UCLA’s head coach.
The LA Times took things a step further by reporting that Barnes would would accept the job if it’s offered to him. Barnes has already interviewed with the Bruins.
Losing Barnes to UCLA would obviously be a devastating blow to Tennessee’s basketball program. After a couple of mediocre seasons, Barnes has built UT into a national title contender. The Vols won the SEC in his third season and won 31 games this past season.
But the potential loss of major talent in the coming weeks will make next season a challenge for Barnes, which is why it’s not entirely surprising that he could take the job at UCLA (even though at 64, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for Barnes to head out west and start over, but perhaps he views the path to success as easier at UCLA than it would be at UT without his big three).
If Barnes leaves, it would put athletic director Phillip Fulmer and the Vols in a bit of a pickle. Who would they go after to replace Barnes? There will be plenty of hot boards if Barnes decides to leave Tennessee, but a lot of those names will be unrealistic. Gregg Marshall isn’t leaving Wichita State for UT. And Tony Bennett isn’t ditching Virginia to come to Knoxville (and get ready for the inevitable Bruce Pearl discussion if Barnes leaves).
The Vols will likely have to go with a younger coach who can help the Vols go through a mini-rebuild.
And I think I know the perfect candidate — UNC-Greensboro’s Wes Miller.
Miller, who won a national championship as a player at North Carolina in 2005, has been the head coach at UNC-Greensboro since 2011. After five trying seasons, Miller was able to get the Spartans over the hump in 2017, leading UNC-Greensboro to 25 wins. The Spartans have won at least 25 games in each of the past three seasons.
UNC-Greensboro, who won a school record 29 games this past season under Miller, was actually the last team left out of the NCAA Tournament last month. It would’ve been the first time a team from the Southern Conference received an at-large bid (something that didn’t even happen when Stephen Curry was at Davidson, as noted by Yahoo Sports).
Hiring a young coach like Miller (he turned 36 in January) would definitely be a bit of a gamble. But I think he has more upside than a lot of other options. The other concern with hiring Miller is that if he has success at Tennessee, he will eventually be picked to succeed Roy Williams at UNC. But I don’t think that’s an issue Vol fans should worry about if Miller was to be considered.
Williams recently signed an eight year contract extension with the Tar Heels. He’s 68, but he doesn’t appear to have plans of retiring anytime soon. If Miller were to come to Knoxville and have the kind of success over an eight year span that prompts UNC to hire him, then I think that would be a huge win for the Volunteers.
Of course, Barnes hasn’t left Tennessee at this point. And it’s certainly possible that he entertains an offer from UCLA and decides to stay put at UT.
One thing is certain — it’s always an adventure when it comes to the Vols.
Featured image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports