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Living in a Barbee world

Auburn collects Barbee.

It’s all but AU-fficial: Tony Barbee is your next Auburn men’s basketball coach.

As far as the quality of Auburn’s basketball program is concerned, this is terrific news. Barbee’s credentials are just about impeccable: a long apprenticeship under the most consistently successful coach in major college basketball, a reputation as a recruiter as strong or better than any second-tier coach in the country, three consecutive years of improvement at UTEP culminating in the at-large NCAA Tournament berth that’s eluded Auburn for the past seven years. Even aside from his resume, it’s (almost) nothing but good things: Barbee is a minority hire and a charismatic guy who won’t even turn 39 until this August.

All told, there wasn’t a hotter name in hoops coaching outside the power-conference ranks, and it seems just about impossible that providing a stud like Barbee with an arena like the Auburn Arena won’t result in a major, major upturn in the program’s fortunes. Many members of the Auburn punditocracy (yours truly included) have opined that Jay Jacobs needed to make the proverbial splash with this hire, to convince Auburn fans now that the Arena isn’t just a novelty act; it’s going to house some serious men’s basketball. Come for opening night, stay for the ascension of the SEC’s next hoops power. Barbee makes that sales job something other than hot air, and despite some misgivings, I can’t wait to see where Auburn ends up in two years.

Of course, the misgivings are there because where Auburn might end up is on probation. Barbee clearly deserves the benefit of the doubt for now–especially given Jacobs’ trust in him–but facts are facts: Barbee was on the bench under John Calipari at both UMass and Memphis, two schools who subsequently fell under the NCAA’s thumb as soon as Calipari exited the building. It’s more than a gamble for a program with a long history on the NCAA’s rap sheet to hire the highest-profile protege of the single biggest sleazebag in the sleazebaggiest NCAA business of them all. Barbee will have to be clean as an Ivy League whistle while he’s at Auburn, or even Jacobs’ apparent home run with the Chizik hire shouldn’t save him. If I’d been the guy in charge, I’d have wanted to to talk with Barbee and those familiar with him from his UMass and Memphis tenures, to try and find out exactly how much Barbee knew and when he knew it. There can’t be any place for cheaters any longer at Auburn, and it’s why I’d have rather pursued a guy with a longer, cleaner history of program building like Gregg Marshall or Billy Kennedy.

That Barbee rolled the dice on (and came up aces, admittedly) a known character risk like Louisville cast-off Derrick Caracter is another red flag. If Barbee’s plan for rebuilding Auburn is to take other program’s dirty laundry, no thanks.

But it’s only fair to assume that Jacobs did his due diligence, that Barbee is clean, that’s he’s going to go about things to right way–the Auburn way–and that he’s about to do what he’s been hired to do: make Auburn basketball relevant again. Short of hiring a Tubby Smith or a Mike Anderson–which was, clearly, never happening–no one looks more poised to do it in as short a period of time as Barbee.

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