I think it’s safe to say that most Vol fans are extremely thankful for what Rick Barnes has done for Tennessee basketball.

With guys like Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone, Barnes took the Big Orange to No. 1 in the country and his team was one horrifically bad foul call away from the Elite 8. Barnes fully rebuilt a program that was in shambles. He brought stability and an injection of excitement to a badly ailing squad.  It was inspiring to see.

But since Grant and Admiral left UT in 2019 (and Barnes signed a new contract making him the 5th highest-paid coach in college basketball at $5 million per year), Barnes is a relatively pedestrian 46-28 overall and has gone no further than the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This certainly isn’t terrible but he’s gone 46-28 with teams that have consisted of four bonafide 5-star players and a ton of upperclassmen to lead the way.

In 2021, Barnes put together the No. 5 recruiting class in America and brought in one of the highest-rated recruits in school history in Kennedy Chandler and got absolutely blown off the floor by Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday. There’s a lot of season left but if things don’t turn around quickly, this looks like another team that will see nothing but an early exit in the tourney.

And with all of that in mind, I think it needs to be said that it’s okay to talk about how Rick Barnes is underperforming right now. We all see it and it’s often tough to watch and just because Barnes gave us some incredible years in the past that we’re all thankful for, that doesn’t mean we can’t call a spade a spade.

Barnes has to be better or the Vols won’t do anything of note this season. There’s too much talent and senior leadership on this roster to not get better performances on the court. Nobody wants Barnes fired and he deserves the benefit of the doubt given how much he’s done for the Vols. But the fact is this: if things don’t improve by the end of the season, there’s going to be some interesting conversations that need to be had about Barnes’ future at UT.

I truly hope things turn around and we don’t have to worry about this, that would obviously be best for everybody. But for now, let’s just state the obvious and not ignore it simply because Barnes had a number one team once.

Featured image via Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports via Imagn