Knoxville’s WBIR TV reported it this way: “After being considered the leading candidate for the UCLA men’s basketball head coaching position, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes says he will stay at Rocky Top.”
ESPN’s Chris Low reported it thusly: “Sources tell me that @RickBarnesUT has decided to remain as @Vol_Hoops’ head coach after UCLA came after him with a lucrative offer that would have paid him $5 million per year.”
The Los Angeles Times: “The Bruins had pivoted to Barnes over the weekend, making him an offer to become the permanent replacement for Steve Alford, only for Barnes to remain in Knoxville after a series of intense negotiations with the school.”
From Knoxville to Los Angeles to the national sports scene, media outlet after media outlet reported it similarly: either vaguely saying that Rick Barnes would not be UCLA’s next coach, or more bluntly saying that Barnes had rejected UCLA’s offer.
Then came 247sports’ UCLA site with a much different take.
“UCLA eliminates Rick Barnes from consideration,” the BruinReportOnline headline screamed. Writer Tracy Pierson went on to say that “UCLA is no longer considering Rick Barnes for its basketball head coaching job,” and that “an agreement couldn’t be reached and UCLA ended the negotiation.” Pearson took effort to point out that Barnes “was seriously interested in the UCLA job and actively pursued it,” before adding that Barnes returned to UCLA to ask for an increase in the proposed salary and that “UCLA decided to drop its pursuit of Barnes.”
Holy spin cycle, Batman!
While it’s easy to laugh about that, legitimate journalists have a responsibility to report the truth and not carry water for a coach or administration. And that sure reads like Pearson is carrying water for the athletics administration at UCLA.
It’s not hard to understand why UCLA would need to put a positive spin on the outcome. Barnes was the school’s fifth option, and the Bruins were willing to overpay to get him. A rejection from Barnes was a terrible look for UCLA, especially as it pivots to whatever option is next for a coaching position that has been vacant for more than three months.
To be fair, it’s possible that Pearson just has better sources than anyone else in the business, and that his take is indeed the way the UCLA-Barnes courtship ended. But the fact that literally no one else is reporting it anything remotely like the Bruin Report is reporting it seems suspicious.
For his part, Pearson responded to a reader’s comment by saying, “I’m 100% certain the spin is coming from Barnes’ camp. I got this from a couple of independent sources.”
Maybe. But there really isn’t such a thing as independent sources in these highly secretive contract negotiations. There are UCLA athletics director Dan Guerrero’s people, there are Rick Barnes’ people, and that’s it.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that a story from a “new media” outlet has read like this. In fact, it seems to happen with regularity.
The Knoxville sports media takes a lot of heat, most of it unjustified. From the News Sentinel to VolQuest.com to GoVolsXtra247.com (the counterpart of the Bruin Report), the folks in Knoxville are generally professionals who work hard to present the story without too much of an orange tint. That doesn’t sit well with some fans, who want their Tennessee-related sports news to be sugar-coated and easy to digest. But it’s the right approach. In too many other places, supposedly professional outlets read more like a fan blog than legitimate journalism.
If Pearson’s description of how negotiations between UCLA and Barnes ended, good on him for getting the story that no one else got. If it’s not, it’s quite a spin job.