Even people who think Rick Barnes can’t coach a lick think he’s a class act.
Long before Barnes landed in Knoxville, just days after being unceremoniously shown the door at the University of Texas, Barnes was lauded by his peers in the coaching profession and even by rival fanbases as being a man of impeccable integrity.
It turns out that Memphis’s Penny Hardaway might be the only college basketball coach in America who doesn’t think so.
It’s been a month since Tennessee’s 102-92 win at Memphis on Dec. 15. And Hardaway, the Tigers’ first-year head coach, still can’t let it go.
In an appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up” morning show with Jalen Rose on Wednesday, Hardaway was asked about last month’s game.
“After the game I didn’t feel like (Barnes) gave my team a fair understanding what we were trying to do,” he said. “He was kind of mocking the NBA and our coaching staff and I really didn’t like that.”
It was the latest jab by Hardaway, who had previously accused Barnes of being “low class” and dropped an F-bomb that was directed at Barnes as he walked away from a press conference in the days after his team’s loss to the Vols.
Hardaway didn’t expand on his claim that Barnes was “mocking” his coaching staff, which naturally leads to the question: what the heck is he talking about? ESPN’s broadcast of the Tennessee-Memphis game clearly showed that Barnes didn’t say anything to Hardaway or any of his coaches after the game beyond the obligatory “good game” as they passed through the handshake line. In fact, Barnes’ handshake with Hardaway was cold and quick, a clear indicator that there’s little respect lost between the two.
And Barnes didn’t say anything about Hardaway’s coaches in any of his postgame comments — not in his postgame presser, not in his postgame radio interview, not in his televised coaches show that weekend, not on the next week’s Vol Calls radio show, not in his weekly press conference.
The closest Barnes came to saying anything derogatory about Memphis was in his weekly press conference three days later, when he took issue with Hardaway calling out UT player Jordan Bone by name after the game. “Well, I didn’t like that,” he said, “obviously, because I don’t think you do that.”
That’s it. Aside from that vague comment, the only thing Barnes said that Hardaway could have possibly took issue with was during an appearance on the Vol Calls radio show the previous evening. “Here’s what I want to ask, too,” Barnes said to UT broadcaster Bob Kesling, “at any point Saturday did you ball your fist up and get ready to fight the other commentator?”
It was a typical Barnes moment, poking fun at Hardaway’s allegations after the game that Tennessee players “ran over to fight” Memphis players with their “fist balled up.”
In Penny Hardaway’s world, that apparently equates to mocking Hardaway’s coaching staff.
Note to Hardaway: Barnes wasn’t mocking your staff. Just you, Penny.
Hardaway was hired by Memphis as an AAU coach with no college coaching experience. And it shows. Because he mischaracterized several aspects of what happened during his team’s loss to Memphis, apparently believing the sports media and the rest of the world would just take his word for it, ignoring the video proof that exists.
It started after the game, when Hardaway claimed that Tennessee’s entire bench “ran over to fight” his team, and that you could “visibly see guys with their fists balled, talking trash to our guys. It was almost like a standoff.”
The video tells a different story. Tennessee’s Bone and Memphis’ Alex Lomax exchanged words, and technical fouls were immediately assessed against each player. As Tennessee players — including Grant Williams — came over to pull Bone away, jawing continued from Memphis players and the Tigers’ Jeremiah Martin was also assessed a technical foul.
There has been no video to surface that shows Tennessee players with their fists balled up, or that shows Tennessee players approaching the Memphis huddle in a confrontational manner.
In other words, Hardaway made the entire thing up.
Hardaway wasn’t content to let it end there, though. Three days later, he was confronted by the media about his postgame comments. And doubled down.
“Honestly, if you just watch the film I’m not making anything up,” he said. “We even had it on the phone. I don’t know who Rick Barnes thinks I am, but I’m not a dude that’s going to mess around about anything. I just call it like I see it.”
Except everyone, by that point, had watched the film, and it was clear that Hardaway was making it up.
In fact, Hardaway — who did something a head coach is never supposed to do when he called out Bone by name in his postgame comments — said that Bone initiated the confrontation by saying something “disrespectfully” to Lomax. If anything, the video backs up Bone’s account of the episode: that Lomax initiated the conversation, and Bone retaliated with words of his own.
Hardaway then called Barnes “low class,” saying: “No matter how he’s trying to make things seem, and I think it’s kind of low class how he’s trying to downgrade my guys for flopping and all that. Man, come on, give me a break.”
Barnes’ only comment with regard to Memphis flopping was on his radio show, when he said: “It was a very difficult game to call when guys are trying to pick up fouls and every time there’s contact jumping back and this and that.”
The problem with Hardaway taking issue with Barnes’ comment is that, again, the video backs up what Barnes is talking about. The acting displayed by Memphis players, who were indeed flopping like fish out of water, was actually quite embarrassing and unbecoming of a college team.
Have another look at the Memphis flop-fest. My favorite part is the double-flop at the end.— Ryan Moses (@RMoses10) December 15, 2018
(Also, note the ref on the baseline called the last foul on the other side of the court) pic.twitter.com/6pQJrxTXII
Hardaway is guilty of two things: he’s attempting to galvanize his fan base and reach out to recruits without realizing that every word a college coach says is going to be picked apart by the sports media. That’s the inexperience factor of an AAU coach whose first college coaching gig is head coach of a fairly major program. The second is that he is choosing to pick on a coach who is universally admired by his peers and even opposing fans.
Back in 2008, Oklahoma State fans were applauding Barnes for delivering pizza to Oklahoma State students who were waiting in line for tickets to a game against Barnes’ Texas team. That’s right: he bought pizza for an opposing team’s students.
Countless stories of Barnes’ charity and humble nature have emerged since, including this video of Barnes returning to Texas to watch a former player graduate 15 years later:
Or this story of an official within the Tennessee athletics department who credited Barnes and Jesus with helping him through a difficult time as he awaited a liver transplant and contemplated suicide.
Pretty much everybody recognizes Barnes as a poster child for class within the coaching profession. Except Hardaway, who accuses Barnes of having no class, all while blatantly making things up and mischaracterizing what happened between Barnes’ players and his own back on Dec. 15.
Then Hardaway did something no sports writer can ever recall a head coach at a major college program doing before. As he walked out of his press conference in Memphis three days after that game against Tennessee, he said: “Rick Barnes, get the f*** out of here.”
Like the video that Hardaway references, his own words belie the things he would have us believe. And everyone can decide for themselves which coach is truly the one without class.