Rick Barnes speaks at Boys & Girls Club event
By MARK MCGEE
When your son and daughter say they want to talk to you, and they tell you hell is your final destination if you don’t change your ways, it gets your attention.
For University of Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, it hit him hard. His son Nick, who is a missionary, and daughter Carley, minced no words.
“They were waiting for me when I came home one day,” Barnes said. “They said, ‘Dad, we need to talk to you.
“They said we know you have worked hard to provide us a good life, but we don’t want that. We want you. My daughter said, ‘Dad, I’m telling you right now, if you died today you are going to hell’.”
Barnes admits he got mad. He drove off, but he know they were right and he started to cry.
“I know I have a son and daughter who loved me enough to tell me the truth,” Barnes said. “The most important thing as a family is our relationship with Jesus Christ. As a father the fact my children won’t be able to say their dad led them to Christ is my biggest regret of anything.”
At my funeral I don’t want them to talk about basketball,” Barnes said. “Just make sure you tell them I loved Jesus Christ.”
His children asked him to go meet with a pastor in Austin, Texas. It was a turning point for Barnes as well.
“They asked me if I would go meet with a guy named Matt Carter who was the preacher of a new church in Austin, Texas,” Barnes said. “I sat down with Matt and he said, ‘I want you to think about this. There are a lot people who would say, if you died today, great things about you at your funeral.
“But you will have three people on the front row thinking you all don’t really know who he is.”
After leaving Texas for Tennessee, Barnes knew one thing he wanted to do other than win basketball games.
“I told people I am going to do one thing with everyone I come in contact with,” Barnes said. “I want them to at least know who Jesus Christ is.
“Matt Carter was right. If I had left the train station that day, my bags weren’t packed. My bags are packed today. Thank God for His grace.”
Barnes has a coaching career filled with awards including five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and an SEC high 144 victories from 2017-18 through 2022-23 with the Vols.
But he told 350 people attending last Tuesday’s Boys and Girls Club Stake and Chicken dinner at the Blue Ribbon Circle Club about the importance of his faith and how the Boys and Girls Club helped give him a positive influence as a child growing up in Hickory, N.C.
In addition to the record attendance, the event, through live and silent auctions, generated a record $160,000. Barnes added $10,000 to the total.
Twenty members of the Shelbyville High School football team ran a shuttle service from the parking lots to the building as well as checking the guest list at the front door. Between 25 and 30 adult volunteers assisted, combining for a record number of volunteers.
“I don’t know why but a guy named Jeff Brock took to the Foundation Center on the side of town where the middle class and well-to-do kids went,” Barnes said. “They had a gym. Other than sleeping at home, I lived at the Foundation Center which was the Boys and Girls Club.
“I look at that time because when I was a young coach I lost every principle I grew up with. I did everything wrong.
“For a decade, everything I knew was right, and what was wrong in the sight of God, I chased it. I was the biggest sinner you could imagine. Without my wife, Candy, my coaching career would have never happened.”
With moderator Harold Segroves asking questions, Barnes also talked about basketball, including Keon Johnson from Webb School who is in the NBA.
But his personal story grabbed the complete attention of the audience and prompted several rounds of applause.
“I had grown in a house with three brothers and one sister,” Barnes said. “She got killed when she was 18, two days after graduation from high school. All three of my brothers served time in prison.
Barnes, too, hit a very rough patch in his life when his sister was killed.
“I was in the eighth grade at the time my sister died, and I literally did everything I could to get kicked out of school,” Barnes said. “I was suspended three or four times.
“I hated school. I was told I wasn’t going to graduate from high school. My parents divorced when I was four, but I grew up in a great family. If we were poor, I didn’t know it.”
Spending time in the missionary field with his son changed Barnes’ perspective as well.
“My son has been all over the world,” Barnes said. “He has lived in the Middle East for 12 years.
“I know what poor is now, and I wasn’t poor. I always had something to eat. It may have been fat back or a piece of baloney but I always had something to eat.”
He left the crowd with an encouraging message, knowing what the Boys and Girls Club had meant to him in a troubled childhood.
“Let your light shine,” Barnes said. “You are all heroes with what you did tonight. It is a great statement.”