The many obvious story lines leading up to the clash between Auburn and Kentucky on Wednesday are the Tigers’ amazing success this season, the Wildcats’ unusual struggles, the status of Auburn leading scorer Bryce Brown, and a number of other things that come to mind.
Alas, when the No. 10 Tigers take the floor against visiting Kentucky, everyone’s eyes will be on an assistant coach sitting on the Kentucky bench, to the right of John Calipari.
That is if he shows up.
The highly despised Tony Barbee — he was 49-75 overall in four years as Auburn head coach — will return to Auburn Arena with his tail between his legs hoping that the fans, administration, media members and anyone else involved with the basketball program magically forget what occurred between 2010-14.
Bruce Pearl, who took over the position left vacant by Barbee in 2014, pleaded with fans to show nothing but respect for Barbee during Monday’s press conference.
“I think it would only be fitting with Auburn to be classy,” Peal said. “He was our basketball coach for four years. He moved his family here and he was a part of this family. I would rather it be us welcoming him and his family back to where they were for four years. There should be nothing else.”
Any inkling of respect would be more than Barbee showed toward Auburn.
It isn’t about the won-loss record that Barbee recorded. In the history of a program not known for much, Auburn fans have seen coaches go come and go without much success, but the attitude Barbee showed for anyone and everyone — a disdain, if you will — was too much to overlook. He came in with the Calipari stamp of approval, making it plausible that he could turn the Tigers into contenders. What Auburn received though was a pompous man who thought he deserved the same status as his former boss. He was unearned arrogance wrapped in expensive suits.
This wouldn’t still be a big deal except that Barbee punked out during what was supposed to be his first visit back to Auburn in 2016. Instead of getting it over with, Calipari sent him on a “recruiting trip.” Everyone saw right through that. In what would likely enter the Guinness Book of World Records for Biggest Coincidence, the only game Barbee has missed as an assistant at Kentucky happened to be that one.
The Barbee tenure was full of disdain, and it came from both sides. As the leader of the program, he was never one to sell his product to the fan base. As its spokesman, his press conference were full of empty quotes and animosity for anyone who dared ask a challenging question. Criticism of any facets of himself were poo-pooed while he would have no problem pointing out a player’s fault at any time.
Speaking about Barbee with Auburn athletic department employees and other media members who covered him, it isn’t surprising that most are glad he is gone.
Barbee will see a new Auburn team on Wednesday, one that would not have been possible with him in charge. The Tigers are one of the top teams in the nation. They face a big challenge from a Kentucky team loaded with NBA talent that. It’s a Kentucky lineup that, if it clicks, could become what you would expect from a Calipari team.
One team will walk out victorious, but if Kentucky is the one defeated, don’t expect Barbee to be in a talking mood.
“I’m the worst loser that there is,” Barbee once said.
For once, most at Auburn would tend to agree with him.
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