Tony Barbee hired as Auburn's basketball coach

abitter@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 24, 2010 

AUBURN, Ala. -- Tony Barbee, a long-time protege of John Calipari, will now have a chance to match up against his mentor in the SEC.

Auburn hired Barbee as its head basketball coach Wednesday night. The 38-year-old Barbee spent the last four years at UTEP, where he went 82-52 and was the 2010 Conference USA Coach of the Year.

"We have challenges in front of us, but we also have great opportunities with everything Auburn has to offer -- a great university, outstanding community, tremendous fan support, and a terrific new arena and practice facility," Barbee said in a press release. "The time is now to take Auburn basketball to new heights."

The 38-year-old Barbee's hiring comes comes 12 days after Auburn fired Jeff Lebo after six seasons. He'll be formally introduced at a press conference Thursday.

"Coach Barbee has a vision of competing for championships at Auburn, and the passion to get us there," Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. "He is a phenomenal coach, an outstanding recruiter and a fierce competitor. ... The bottom line is Tony Barbee is a winner."

Barbee was considered a hot commodity in the coaching market, having been linked to both the Iowa and DePaul jobs this offseason.

He was making $300,000 a year at UTEP and figures to earn a substantial raise. Jacobs said Auburn would be competitive in the SEC market. The school paid Lebo $785,000 a year, the lowest salary in the league.

Lebo, who was hired recently by East Carolina, is owed a $1.5 million buyout by Auburn. Barbee's buyout at UTEP is reportedly one year's salary, $300,000.

Barbee is the first black head basketball coach in the program's history. He joins track coach Ralph Spry Jr. as the only two minority head coaches at the school.

Auburn interviewed a host of candidates for the position, including former Tigers great and Los Angeles Lakers special assistant Chuck Person on Wednesday.

The school also showed interest in Minnesota's Tubby Smith and interviewed or contacted North Texas' Johnny Jones, Sam Houston State's Bob Marlin, Wright State's Brad Brownell, Morehead State's Donnie Tyndall and Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus.

A native of Indianapolis, Barbee has been associated with Calipari since he played for him at UMass from 1989-93. He got his coaching start at his alma mater as a graduate assistant from 1996-98.

After one season as an assistant with Wyoming, Barbee reunited with Calipari at UMass for a year. Barbee followed him to Memphis in 2000, serving as Calipari's top assistant and recruiter from for six seasons.

The Tigers won 148 games in that span. ranked Barbee as the No. 3 recruiter in the country while he was at Memphis.

Barbee took the UTEP job in 2006, taking the Miners from 10th place in the Conference USA to first in only four years. They went 26-7 this season and won the C-USA regular season title, making the NCAA tournament as a 12th seed. They lost to Butler in the first round.

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