“It hurt guys, I’m still hurting …

“We’ve got the guys, we just don’t have the coach.” – Z.R., radio caller on 3-and-Out Show last Monday morning after No. 3 seed Tennessee was eliminated from the NCAA basketball tournament by No. 11 seed Michigan.

By Steve Williams

It’s been awhile since I’ve written on UT athletics, but I’ve been paying attention.

There were mixed emotions in Volville last week after Tennessee was upset by the Wolverines 76-68 in the Round of 32.

It didn’t surprise me that it happened. Despite a 27-8 record, No. 5 national ranking and winning its first SEC tournament since 1979, I had seen enough of the Vols this season to not be surprised by an off-game showing against Michigan.

Tennessee had been looking good, but I just didn’t think this team could win four in a row to make the Final Four much less six straight to win the title.

Despite the first negative comment I heard on Monday, the fan base seemed to be split on the topic the remainder of the week.

Many fans didn’t blame Rick Barnes for the loss. He didn’t fire the 3-point blanks, some said.

On Thursday, UT Athletic Director Danny White extended Barnes’ contract through the 2026-27 season. That was the right thing to do.

In my opinion, there are many more reasons to keep Barnes than give up on him.

Sure, Texas didn’t rehire him after he failed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen again in 2015. Sure, in seven seasons at Tennessee, only one of his teams has made it to that round.

Many fans call him just a good regular season coach and that’s fair.

But he continues to recruit well and usually makes it to the Big Dance.

With his past success at Texas – including a Final Four showing in 2003 – and an overall record that includes over 750 wins, many consider him to be a Hall of Fame caliber coach.

Part of that reason is because he’s a Christian, a good man and plays by the rules. He is respected across the country.

Tennessee is fortunate to have him. And Barnes implied last week he was fortunate to be coaching at a great place like Tennessee.

My hope is that in his remaining time here, he will guide the Vols to the Final Four and a national championship and leave here on his way to Springfield, Mass., home of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, joining great Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt, who was inducted in 2000.