Less than a week after Doc Sadler abruptly left UTEP to be the head coach at Nebraska, the Miners will hire Memphis assistant Tony Barbee to replace him, sources close to the search told ESPN.com Sunday.
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.
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.
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.