While many Wolf Pack students were relaxing in the waves all across beaches in California over Spring Break, the Nevada athletic department was making some moves of its own last week.
A report from CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish indicated that the Wolf Pack had targeted former Auburn University head coach Tony Barbee as the successor to the recently-dismissed David Carter. Barbee is currently the special assistant to Kentucky head coach John Calipari on the top-ranked Wildcats team.
Barbee isn’t the only candidate, however. Two other names that have come up in reports include former NBA coach Eric Musselman and Arizona associate head coach Joe Pasternack. A new coach is expected to be announced by Thursday during the Nevada Board of Regents meeting. This is the special meeting agenda item on whether to approve or deny the Wolf Pack’s next head coach.
It’s anyone’s guess who will succeed Carter. However, Barbee’s name has been attached to the job most. If he is indeed Nevada’s next coach, then he is going to need a few traits — not only as a coach but as a person — to succeed in Reno.
ADVANCED COACHING PEDIGREE
It is well documented that Nevada is in the bottom tier of funding in the Mountain West, so it was uncertain whether they would have the resources to hire a candidate with prior head coaching experience. While Barbee does not have the name value of a Bob Knight or even a Bob Huggins, he does have a wealth of great coaching experience which spans over 20 years. In his first stint as a head coach at the University of Texas at El Paso, Barbee compiled an overall record of 82-52 and each season the Miners’ win total improved. He was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year following the 2009-2010 season (his final year at UTEP) and saw the Miners win the C-USA title and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
ABILITY TO DO A LOT WITH A LITTLE
Working at a university with a similar budget to Nevada and also one that was in a mid-major conference, Barbee is familiar with the workings of a school outside of the Power Five conferences. Barbee’s teams at UTEP were in a postseason tournament three out of the four years he was a coach and he pulled down the Miners’ first regular season title since they were old foes of the Wolf Pack in the Western Athletic Conference in the 2003-2004 season. Additionally, Barbee’s familiarity with Nevada and the MWC is a lot deeper than one would think. He was an assistant at Wyoming from 1998-1999 and one of his UTEP teams actually knocked out the Mark Fox-led Wolf Pack from the 2009 CBI tournament which coincidentally happened to be the last time David Carter was not the head coach of Nevada.
As a former All-League standout at UMass for coach Calipari, Barbee knows the game from both the inside and out. In addition to his time on the court, Barbee spent time recruiting future NBA players Dajuan Wagner and Rodney Carney as an assistant coach during Calipari’s formative years at Memphis and helped to lay the recruiting groundwork for when the Tigers picked up Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans in the late 2000s. His experience with the Kentucky team this season and their small army of potential NBA Draft lottery picks also gives him a distinct edge in knowing what a top-flight recruit wants out of a program. Of course, Reno is a far cry from both Memphis and Lexington in terms of skills on the hardwood, but having someone who has been around the most successful of programs could pay huge dividends for the Pack.
The biggest knock on Barbee is that he did not win when the light was brightest on him. According to an article in USA Today, Barbee’s second-to-last season as Auburn’s head coach saw a recruiting budget of $465,000 which was in the top five in the country and his team still struggled to a 9-23 record. However, credit must be given to Barbee who has been a trailblazer of sorts for African-American head coaches. He was the first African-American head coach for a major sports team at Auburn (he was also the first African-American head coach in UTEP men’s basketball history) and after dealing with the challenging situations thrown at him from the rabid groups of fans in the SEC, the Mountain West should be a breeze.
For the cash-strapped Wolf Pack to sign a guy at a the right price who can be successful at a mid-major level and who also knows what the pinnacle of college basketball can be is, please excuse the pun, a slam dunk.
Chris Boline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @CDBoline.