!Please Note!

You are using an outdated browser that may impact your experience on FCA.org.
Please upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer here or download another browser like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.
Once you upgrade, this notice will no longer appear.

Rick Barnes, University of Tennessee Men's Basketball

Published on December 18, 2020

Danielle Ripley-Burgess
The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.  

He was on a bus driving from Knoxville to Nashville and surrounded by a sea of orange when the world changed. After an up-and-down few days it was decided: the SEC Conference Tournament was canceled, and the NCAA Tournament would soon follow suit. His team’s dreams were crushed. Many of them seniors, the team would not play their final games of the year. It was a moment that would lead many to despair, but for University of Tennessee Head Men’s Basketball Coach Rick Barnes, it was a moment that led him to sink deep into his faith. Although disappointed for his team, he kept his chin up. His life was anchored in Jesus Christ, and He knew God was ultimately in control.


What happened when the SEC Tournament was canceled?

Our players started asking questions once the NBA players decided they weren’t going to play. It was a really surreal, eerie-type thing. In my mind, I did not think we should be playing in the tournament, and after a few media interviews I got the call. The tournament was canceled.

We immediately talked to our team. They were scared. The virus was more serious than we thought. But we told them we were going back to the hotel to get on the bus, and we were going to be back in Knoxville in three hours. We had our medical team reassure them about the virus and what needed to happen. Then, I shifted into being a parent. I would want my kids home with me, so we wanted to get our guys to their parents quickly. We reassured them we would talk every day.


How have you handled the ups and downs of this year?

I really missed our guys a lot. We stayed in touch, but our guys really missed being here, which was a good thing. It tells us we were going in the right direction. What’s got me through it, and what I encourage others to do, is I start each day in the Word of God. The world is a dark place. There is spiritual warfare going on every day. If we don’t start with the Word, where we are anchored down and walking with the Holy Spirit every day, the world will get ahold of us in ways we don’t want it to.


 How did you lead and love your athletes through a canceled season?

I encouraged athletes to take the time to reflect on more than just being an athlete. Most athletes have a dream of playing professionally or being a big-time athlete. I think that’s great because it teaches self-discipline and how to be motivated. You can carry those same things into your faith life, and it makes you a complete person. The best athletes I’ve been around think clearly and have great balance in their lives. They understand they’re going to have some bad games, but they have a short memory too. I encourage our people to have a rock to hold on to. To me, the rock—the only thing we know that’s going to be solid footing—is the Rock of Jesus Christ.


How do you stay hopeful in uncertainty?

The most common answer to most questions this year is, “We don’t know right now what the future holds.” But those of us who believe in Jesus Christ do know the answer. We’ve got a Lord and Savior in control, and He’s going to use this to bring glory to His Kingdom. I believe that with all my heart. Whatever happens over the next two, three months— which we don’t know—I’m going to be good with it.

This is a difficult time, but it’s also a great time because it gives us a chance to refocus and really think about what’s important in life. When these things happen, we must step back and ask questions. If you have knowledge of our Lord and Savior, you know He’s in charge. We’ve got to live the fruit of the Spirit, showing people we love them and care about them.


What is God teaching you right now?

Earlier this year, I decided I wanted a deeper, more meaningful prayer life, and I wanted to get into the book of Exodus and not just read it but study it. To take my time to go through it, not being in a hurry but really soaking it in. It’s been wonderful.





Written with support from Danielle Ripley-Burgess
Images courtesy of the University of Tennessee