UCLA’s search for a head basketball coach has taken a new turn, with multiple media outlets reporting that Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, fresh off guiding the Volunteers to the Sweet 16, is the new front-runner.
ESPN reports there is interest from Barnes, who on Sunday was named the 2019 Naismith Coach of the Year, and from the school.
The Los Angeles Times Barnes has already interviewed with school officials, and cited a source close to Barnes that said the coach would accept the job if it is offered.
Barnes is coming off a 31-6 record at Tennessee in his fourth year there. He is 88-50 and has taken the Volunteers to the NCAA Tournament for the last two seasons.
UCLA fired coach Steve Alford in December, when the Bruins were 7-6 and had home losses to Belmont and Liberty, among others. Murry Bartow coached the team on an interim basis.
The Bruins finished the season 17-16, including 9-9 in the Pac-12 Conference.
The previous coach believed to be UCLA’s target was TCU’s Jamie Dixon. The Times reported that the Bruins wanted no part of paying TCU $8 million to buy out Dixon’s contract.
ESPN reported UCLA was interested in Virginia’s Tony Bennett, but the school didn’t want to wait for the NCAA Tournament to conclude before finding its coach. Virginia plays Monday night against Texas Tech for the national championship.
Other reports over the weekend appeared to tie Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger to the UCLA opening, going so far as to say Kruger also had already interviewed, but he issued a statement saying he has not had contact with the school.
Multiple reports indicated also that the search previously focused on Kentucky coach John Calipari, with the Times relaying a contract offer of $45 million over six years. Calipari eventually signed what’s been called a “lifetime” contract to stay at Kentucky.
Barnes’ overall coaching record is 692-364, with stops at George Mason, Providence, Clemson and Texas before Tennessee. He spent 17 seasons in Texas, going 402-180, but drew criticism for his teams not going deep into the NCAA Tournament despite 16 appearances.
—Field Level Media