Less than a week after Doc Sadler abruptly left UTEP to be the head basketball coach at Nebraska, the Miners hired Memphis assistant Tony Barbee to replace him.
Barbee was chosen over a host of candidates because of his familiarity with Conference USA and successful pedigree under Memphis coach John Calipari as an assistant and as a player for Calipari at UMass (1989-93), a source said.
"Tony has been extremely successful as a player and coach, going to 15 consecutive postseason tournaments," UTEP Director of Athletics Bob Stull said. "He is recognized as a tremendous recruiter. We have enjoyed a strong run with 72 wins in three years, and three straight postseason tournaments. We feel Tony can carry on the tradition of excellence established by coach Don Haskins and maintained over the years."
Memphis is the dominant program in the newly formed Conference USA that added UTEP as a member a year ago. This is a major statement by UTEP to pluck an assistant from a rival school to lead the Miners. Barbee has been known as one of the top recruiting assistants in the country as the Tigers consistently pull in top-50 recruits.
"I want to thank [Memphis coach] John Calipari for mentoring me and showing confidence in me," Barbee said. "I am honored to have him as my coach, mentor, friend and now competitor in Conference USA. I look forward to the rivalries with him and the other great coaches in the league. Most importantly, I look forward to spending some time getting to know a fine group of young men at UTEP, and letting them see my vision and coaching philosophy."
Barbee, 35, will be the Miners' third coach in five years after Billy Gillispie and Sadler each had two-year stints. Gillispie succeeded Jason Rabedeaux four years ago when Rabedeaux suddenly resigned prior to the 2002-03 season. Gillispie then turned the Miners around from one of the worst teams in the WAC to an NCAA Tournament team in just one season. Sadler replaced Gillispie after he left following the NCAA tourney season two years ago for Texas A&M where he then led the Aggies to a similar turnaround, leading them to the NCAAs in his second season. Sadler guided the Miners to the NCAA Tournament in his first season and just missed this past season, ending up in the NIT.
UTEP athletic director Bob Stull, who once coached football at UMass where Calipari coached and Barbee played, interviewed a slew of candidates in the past four days. He interviewed UTEP assistants Tony Benford and Randall Dickey Thursday and then on Friday in Dallas interviewed Texas A&M assistant Alvin Brooks, Sam Houston State coach Bob Marlin, Kansas assistant Tim Jankovich, LSU assistant Butch Pierre and Texas assistant Rodney Terry. Barbee was the last to interview on Saturday in Dallas. Stull was supposed to talk to former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson Sunday morning but it's unclear whether that interview actually took place.
Stull had to make a quick hire with school starting at UTEP on Aug. 21. The Miners have nine newcomers and keeping them could have been an issue with a slow search process. Hiring Barbee is significant in another way at UTEP in diversifying the program. He is African-American, the first African-American head men's basketball coach. It was under former coach and Hall of Famer Don Haskins that then-Texas Western started an all-African-American starting five to win the 1966 NCAA title.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was also used in this report.