In what will likely be the only coaching change in the SEC this season, the Auburn Tigers have hired Tony Barbee to replace the recently dismissed (and quickly hired by the East Carolina Pirates) Jeff Lebo. Barbee comes to the Plains after coaching the UTEP Miners for four years. UTEP is his only prior head-coaching experience. His tenure in El Paso was a successful one, as his teams steadily improved each year, culminating in this season's regular-season CUSA champion and NCAA tournament squad.
Barbee played for and coached for several years as an assistant under Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari, and like Coach Cal, Barbee has a reputation for being a stellar recruiter. This was undoubtedly a major selling point for Auburn AD Jay Jacobs, as Jeff Lebo's (and many prior Auburn coaches') major failing was his inability to recruit well, particularly the inability to compete with the Alabama Crimson Tide and other SEC schools for the state of Alabama's top propsects. Barbee has pledged that he has what it takes to do better:
And you better enjoy them if you are going to be good at them. And as you see my wife, you can tell I'm a pretty good recruiter. We are going to go after and attract the best players in the country - the best that fit with me, Auburn University, with the Auburn Family and what it stands for. We are not going to be afraid of going after the best players in the state of Alabama. We are not going to be afraid of going after the best players in the Southeast region. We are not going to be afraid to go after the best players anywhere in the country. I promise you that. Not only will we be recruiting student-athletes who I think can succeed here, academically and athletically, we will be recruiting the media, for exposure, we are going to be recruiting the community, for support, and we are going to be recruiting the students, because my responsibility is to rekindle that love affair between the Auburn community, the Auburn Family and this storied program. That is my challenge and I accept it whole heartedly. Again I want to thank Dr. Gogue and Jay Jacobs. I am proud, and humbled to be the newest member of the Auburn Family. War Eagle!
The phrase "easier said than done" comes to mind while reading this, but you have to be impressed by his attitude, and his history with Cal and track record at UTEP and before as an assistant at Memphis suggest he may have what it takes to get it done.
As far as his coaching philosophy goes, Barbee favors an up-tempo style. He claims that he will emphasize a disciplined pressure defense that will hopefully create a lot of offense through forcing turnovers. He favors the dribble-drive for his offensive sets. In other words, he's a lot like Cal here, too.
Only time will tell how Barbee will fare at Auburn. The job is a notoriously tough one that few have found consistent success at. The program has competed in the NCAA tournament only eight times, the last being in 2003. Barbee, though, appears to be a very promising coach, one with the kinds of skills that should help him succeed with the Tigers. For that, I would call this a strong hire.