By The Associated Press
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn hired Tony Barbee as basketball coach Wednesday night after he led UTEP to the regular-season Conference USA title and the NCAA tournament.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs announced that Barbee will replace Jeff Lebo, fired the day after a first-round SEC tournament loss. Lebo failed to make the NCAA field during his six seasons.
Tupelo native Bob Marlin was reported to be in the running for the Auburn job.
Barbee led UTEP to three consecutive winning records in four seasons. The Miners were 26-7 this past season but lost 77-59 to Butler in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“Coach Barbee has a vision of competing for championships at Auburn, and the passion to get us there,” Jacobs said. “He is a phenomenal coach, an outstanding recruiter and a fierce competitor.
“Coach Barbee also shares Auburn values and is the right man to lead our team and represent Auburn University and the Auburn family. The bottom line is Tony Barbee is a winner.”
Auburn will introduce the 38-year-old Barbee at a news conference Thursday afternoon. The Tigers, who haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2003, move into $92 million Auburn Arena next season.
Barbee was an assistant for John Calipari at Memphis from 2000-06 when the program averaged nearly 25 wins a season.
“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. “The time is now to take Auburn basketball to new heights.”
Barbee is the school’s first black head coach in men’s or women’s basketball. Auburn was criticized by some a year ago when the football program hired Gene Chizik — a white coach who had a losing record at Iowa State — instead of black candidate Turner Gill, now leading the Kansas program.
Barbee also played for Calipari at UMass on teams that reached the round of 16 in the 1992 NCAA tournament and the NIT Final Four the previous year.
He played professionally in Spain and France after leaving UMass, where he had two stints as an assistant coach sandwiched around a season with Wyoming.
Barbee also had recruiting successes that included helping land six straight top-10 classes at Memphis, including a 2001 group that was rated No. 1 nationally.
Four of his former players are in the NBA: Rodney Carney (Philadelphia 76ers), Joey Dorsey (Sacramento Kings), Chris Douglas-Roberts (New Jersey Nets) and Marcus Camby (Portland Trail Blazers).