The long, slow divorce of Texas and Rick Barnes finally became official -- or close -- on Saturday, with multiple reports indicating the school will part ways with its coach of 17 years after the Longhorns' quick exit from the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Barnes led Texas to the 2003 Final Four, but the school has advanced to the Sweet 16 only six times in his tenure in Austin. And though that latter feat did bring the tradition-poor program's lifetime tally of trips to the NCAA Tournament's second weekend to 10, the last such advancement came in 2008.
For Barnes and Texas, this was a long time coming. But the Longhorns should absolutely be able to land a top-flight coach, because their job should be one of the most attractive in college basketball -- at least in theory.
1. Texas has more money to burn than anyone
The Texas athletic department has by far the deepest pockets in the country -- according to Business Insider, the school made around $165.7 million in 2013.
Granted, the football team and Longhorn Network are mostly responsible for those massive revenue streams, but the school still has a lot of cash to throw around, even after buying out the retiring Mack Brown and handing a hefty salary to Charlie Strong last winter. And football revenues won't be shrinking in the near future.
Barnes was already making more than $2 million (with a compensation package that could reach more than $3 million with bonuses), and it's reasonable to assume Texas will pay his successor more. But Texas probably won't have to win a potential bidding war for the coach it wants -- the "best" open job outside of Austin is either Alabama or Tennessee, and both programs are located in smaller states and have made no Final Four appearances. (Each school has just one Elite Eight berth, as well; Barnes, for his faults, had three at Texas.)
So Texas could instead entice a big name to try on burnt orange by burning money on on-campus facilities upgrades or assistant coach salaries. The school already has to relocate its basketball arena soon, with the Frank Erwin Center scheduled for demolition to make room for a new medical school set to open in 2016. The right name as its next head coach could probably convince the program's many well-heeled boosters to pony up for a Texas Taj Mahal.
2. The state's massive talent pool is only growing
The state of Texas is well-known for its coveted pool of football recruits, but there is plenty of basketball talent in the area as well. Just in the past decade, notable names to come out of the state include LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh, Julius Randle, DeAndre Jordan, Marcus Smart, Myles Turner and the Harrison brothers of Andrew and Aaron.
One of the greatest failures under Barnes? Only two of those players (Aldridge and Turner) committed to the Longhorns. Randle followed the Harrisons to Kentucky, Smart headed north to Oklahoma State, Bosh settled for Georgia Tech and Jordan went to bitter in-state rivals Texas A&M.
Had Barnes been able to convince those players -- or even lesser lights, like North Carolina freshman Justin Jackson and Oklahoma State junior LeBryan Nash -- to stay close to home, and complemented them with out-of-state catches like Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin over the years, the Longhorns might have done a lot better than one Final Four and three Elite Eight appearances in 17 years.
And given that the Texas talent pool has gotten better and deeper quite recently (Texas high schools have produced eight Recruiting Service Consensus Index top-10 players since 2012), a new coach could strike while the iron is hot, and forge a fine roster in short order.
3. The blessing of a (mostly) blank slate
Let's be realistic here: Texas is a football school, first and foremost. Basketball will never be the school's main focus, and it won't pay the bills like the football team does. The upside of that reality? There is a lower bar for success. Barnes lasted 17 years there despite consistently doing less with more, and with just a little more effort his successor could easily elevate the program.
Texas basketball is unlikely to reach the heights of Duke, Kansas or North Carolina, but with the financial resources and talent pool available to them, there's no reason why the Longhorns shouldn't at least aspire to Florida's level. Florida is also a football-first school, but the basketball department maximizes its resources and recruiting pool, along with finding, accommodating and retaining a coach like Billy Donovan to put it all together. The result is a strong Gators team that's been to six Elite Eights and three Final Fours in the last nine years, and has as many national titles this millennium as any program in the country.
Any coach worth Texas' time knows that every resource one could want to fuel a powerhouse program should be available in Austin -- and that becoming the most successful coach in school history might only be a matter of making an NCAA Tournament final, eclipsing Barnes by one round of play. Or that coach, like Barnes, could get Texas to uncharted waters, then run out of gas and eventually become the victim of previous success and high standards. Such are the stakes with sleeping giants.
Texas athletic director Steve Patterson probably won't be able to land the next Roy Williams or Tom Izzo, but he should at least be looking for his Donovan. Texas basketball had a decent run under Barnes, but the program can assuredly set its sights much higher than a decent coach -- and there's no reason it shouldn't.