AUSTIN, Texas — An emotional Rick Barnes fought back tears in saying goodbye to Texas after 17 years Sunday, insisting he’s grateful for his time with Longhorns and isn’t bitter about being fired.
“The wins and losses are fleeting, but it’s the relationships that matter,” Barnes said at a 40-minute farewell news conference. “We know as a coach, this whole thing is about players. We’ve been blessed as a staff here to have so many players who have affected our lives.”
But Barnes also revealed that he had been told by athletic director Steve Patterson that he would be back for another season after Texas lost to Butler in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Some things changed,” Barnes said.
Barnes confirmed Patterson told him a few days ago he had to fire staff or be fired himself. That ultimatum was leaked to the media Thursday, publicly turning up the pressure on Barnes and his assistants. Barnes blamed the leaks on the athletic department but didn’t name any individuals behind them.
“I was shocked,” by the leaks, Barnes said. “I couldn’t do that. That would be me saying this is about me. I’ve been carried by a lot of people here. We’re in this together.”
Barnes said his staff offered to quit but he refused to let them.
Patterson did not attend the news conference.
The university released a statement announcing a “mutual” agreement to part ways that included a comment from Patterson thanking Barnes for his service. But Barnes left no doubt that he was fired.
“I don’t want anyone to think I’m bitter. Do those emotions rage up inside you? Yeah, they do. I told Steve I wanted a chance to finish the job,” Barnes said.
Barnes, 60, said he would like to coach again but didn’t say where. Given his resume, his name is likely to surface as a potential candidate for several job openings around the country. He had four years left on his Texas contract and is due a severance payment of $1.75 million.
Barnes leaves a legacy of winning at Texas.
His Longhorns teams reached the NCAA Tournament 16 times and he won three Big 12 titles. Barnes won 402 games at Texas, the most in school history, and this season he became just the 13th active coach to reach 600 career wins. Texas made the Final Four in 2003 for first time in more than 50 years.
The Longhorns also made it to the tournament’s final eight in 2006 and 2008 and boasted rosters full of future NBA talent in players like T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and others. Ford (2003) and Durant (2007) both earned national player of the year honors.
“They are the program. They are the ones who created the real legacy,” Barnes said.
Ford, who attended the news conference, was the player Barnes leaned on to build the program.
“No player ever taught me more about the game than he did,” Barnes said.
Ford said Barnes recruited him on the promise of the powerhouse Texas could be.
“He sold me on making an impact and changing the culture of basketball at the University of Texas and the entire state,” Ford said. “That’s something we’ll all remember and cherish because those memories will never go away.”
It was the inability to make deep runs into the tournament in recent years despite the talent that ultimately cost Barnes the loyalty of the Texas fan base, who complained the program had become stagnant. Texas hasn’t advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
“You want the fairy tale ending. You want it all to end right. Sometimes you don’t get what you want in life,” Barnes said.