BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
NASHVILLE – So now that it’s complete, the three-year book on Tony Barbee is officially … well, not something to boast about.
A 35-59 overall record. 12-38 in SEC games, and that doesn’t include three first-round bounce-outs from the SEC tournament. Two 20-loss seasons in three campaigns, including this year’s 9-23 disaster which matches LSU in 1966-67 for the most defeats ever for an SEC squad.
Barbee had high hopes for his third outfit. Pooh-poohed the preseason notion Auburn would finish near last place. Of course, the Tigers proved the critics wrong – they finished in last place, for the first time in five seasons.
Always a fighter, Barbee insists he’s the man to fix this fractured program.
“Nobody’s expectations can be higher than mine. I’m disappointed in the year we had, we’re all frustrated in the year we had, and as the coach of the program, I take full responsibility for it,” Barbee said after the 16th loss in 17 games, a 71-62 loss to Texas A&M in Wednesday’s SEC Tournament late-night play-in game at Bridgestone Arena.
“That’s all on me, and I told my guys that. But I told the guys, I didn’t coach them very well this year. So I apologized to them. There’s a challenge for them to get better, there’s a challenge for me to get better. And we’re going to do that.”
A $3 million buyout option with four years remaining on his $1.5 million annual contract may buoy his job security. Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs was on hand in Nashville, but was not in the visiting squad’s locker room for postgame comment.
“That’s not for me to judge. I’m proud of the direction we’re going,” Barbee said. “It’s not always the wins and losses that prove the progression. Sometimes when you’re in a rebuilding mode, you’re going to take some steps back, before you get flying forward. That’s the process we’re in.”
Barbee acknowledged while his job description is multi-faceted, he’s ultimately judged on wins and losses. Rather than sulk in yet another trip to the latter, Barbee already seemed anticipatory of the year (or years) to come.
“I’m so disappointed that we’re not playing tomorrow. There’s nobody that’s more of a competitor than me, so I’m absolutely disappointed this season is over,” Barbee said. “And it’s evidenced by, you saw how my team fought today. They fought for each other. We played hard all year long. It just … it didn’t go the way we all wanted, and that comes back on me.”
Senior center Rob Chubb, not one to throw a longtime leader to the wolves but also no longer in a position to fear penance with his Auburn career through, spoke to why Barbee deserved a fourth season.
“Yeah. Definitely. I mean, he’s a great coach,” Chubb said. “If we just did all the things that he tells us to do, then it would be a lot easier game on us. It’s just mental mistakes, little breakdowns here and there end up in the snowball effect, into a bigger problem than it should be.”
Why is this Barbee’s task, and nobody else’s, to rebuild the Tigers?
“Because I’m confident in myself,” Barbee said. “I’ve won everywhere I’ve been. And we’re going to win at Auburn.”