Barnes reflects on his mentor, Gavitt

STORRS, Conn. -- Given the choice of accepting a road loss in order to see former Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt on Saturday, Texas coach Rick Barnes said he would take the loss.

Gavitt, who has been ailing the past few years after multiple bypass surgery and other health issues, made a rare public appearance at the Texas-Connecticut game.

Barnes, the former Providence coach, where Gavitt served as both coach and athletic director, was near tears in the postgame news conference in referencing Gavitt and then again when he was in the hallway in describing what Gavitt has meant to him in his career.

“I love him,’’ said Barnes, his voice cracking. “He’s just like a father to me. That’s what he’s been to me. It’s hard. I know he’s fighting through stuff. I can’t tell you what it meant to see him.’’

Barnes said he wouldn’t be where he is in coaching without Gavitt.

“I think about when I got to Providence, I wasn’t ready for the job and I was scared to death,’’ Barnes said. “He took so much time to help me, more than people ever knew. He had such a presence with all of us Big East coaches.’’

Barnes said that he checked in with Gavitt before any move he made, whether it was going to Clemson from Providence, not going to Virginia, or Clemson to Texas. Barnes said he called Gavitt to call Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds for him and to give him the final OK on the gig. He said Gavitt told him that he better think long and hard about the job. When Barnes said he would take the job, that’s when Gavitt told him that he was learning. He told him that it could be one of the best jobs in the country, which is exactly what Barnes has made Texas into the past dozen years.

Barnes said people would think he was crazy for saying it but it meant more to him to see Gavitt than winning the game. That doesn’t mean he didn’t want to win Saturday, but seeing Gavitt moved him more than anything else here.

“As soon as the season is over I’m coming back up here to see him,’’ Barnes said. “To see him today….’’

Barnes didn’t complete the sentence. But everyone around him Saturday knew that Gavitt held a special place in his heart and to see Gavitt fighting for his health was too much for Barnes to bear.