Minneapolis Nobody involved with the Kansas University athletic department has looked forward to this week with more enthusiasm than Barry Hinson, director of external relations for the school’s basketball program.
In recent years, mid-March had not been kind to Hinson, fired last March after nine seasons as head basketball coach at Missouri State, where he posted an average record of 19-13 and took the Bears to four NIT appearances, doing so three times in seasons with an RPI that normally earns teams invitations to the NCAA Tournament.
And it was that very record that was his undoing. After coaching Missouri State to a 22-11 mark in the 2006-2007 season, including a victory against Wisconsin, Missouri State president Michael T. Nietzel called a news conference at season’s end, but it wasn’t to gripe about the Bears getting snubbed yet again by the tournament selection committee. Nietzel gave Hinson a performance review that essentially was a preview to his firing. He might as well have shoved Hinson onto the plank, shoved a pistol in his back and told him to start walking.
At the notorious news conference, Nietzel praised the academic record of Hinson’s athletes, the “record of integration into campus and university culture,” the financial record of the program and its integrity and compliance with rules.
“There is no doubt that coach Hinson gets high marks in four of these five goals,” said Nietzel. “When it comes to the first goal, the ability to compete, I think we have had consistently good teams. What we aspire to have, however, are regularly excellent teams.”
Hinson stood on the plank and Nietzel tossed some of the coach’s blood to the swirling sharks below to make sure they knew they didn’t need to seek a meal elsewhere.
Hinson prefers not to look back on that news conference and instead talks about how lucky he is to be reunited with Bill Self, for whom he worked as an assistant at Oral Roberts University, before taking Self’s job (for two years) when he moved across town to head the Tulsa program.
Hinson is not allowed to instruct players, but attends practice every day and serves as a sounding board for Self. He makes the team’s travel arrangements, right down to pre-game meals, and is in charge of soliciting financial contributions from former KU basketball players for the construction of a new practice facility. (Hinson said Scot Pollard already is on board.) Hinson lives in Lawrence with his wife, Angie. They have two grown daughters.
“I love it,” Hinson said of his new job during a recent sit-down interview. “I’ve joked, ‘Thank goodness I lost my job in the greatest of economic times and at a time that it’s easy to sell your house.’ But I do love it.
“I’m watching Game Day on ESPN and the guys say with the exception of Kansas, this has probably been the second-best location we’ve had at Game Day. I mean, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I’m like a peacock. I’m just putting my chest out. I’m Kansas now. I’m a Jayhawk.”
At games in Allen Fieldhouse, Hinson sat behind the baseline, next to former Jayhawks reserve guard Jeremy Case, who said he has “learned a ton” from Hinson that will help him during his coaching career.
On the road, Hinson usually sits behind the Kansas bench. An Oklahoma State graduate, Hinson and first-year video coordinator Kyle Keller wore orange ties in Norman, where the color does to humans what red does to bulls. Purely a coincidence, no doubt.
Hinson, 47, said he strictly follows the rules of what he can and can’t do.
“I can’t coach, can’t recruit, can’t go out on the road, can’t speak on behalf of Kansas basketball to a recruit or a recruit’s family and I don’t do it,” he said. “Don’t do it. And it’s hard because I feel like I know coach extremely well. I went to school with him. I started coaching with him. I know his family. I’ve known the kids since they were babies. I’ve known his wife before they were married.”
Hinson knows first-hand where Self’s commitment to coaching defense originated, from legendary basketball coach Henry Iba. Hinson said he worked for him doing odd jobs in Gallagher Arena as a freshman at OSU as part of a work-study program.
“You’re talking about a kid who was the head coach at Stillwater Junior High and I met Mr. Iba. I’m going to his house. I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Hinson said. “We go out there and it’s snowing like a booger. I’m sitting in Mr. Iba’s living room and the phone rings and it’s Bobby Knight. Then the Fed Ex guy comes and he’s got a package from George Raveling at Iowa. Then Dean Smith calls.”
Hinson recounted the conversation as if it took place yesterday. He picked it up at the point he pulled a notebook out of his brief case.
“Young man,” Iba told him, “you’re not going to take notes. I’m going to talk and you’re going to listen. I’m going to tell you eight things. The first thing I’m going to tell you, all you pups, the only thing you’re concerned with is how to put that orange thing in the hole. And what you pups have got to figure out is how to keep that orange thing out of the hole.”
Hinson said he began to panic when Iba reached Point No. 5.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to ask me to repeat the eight points,’ ’’ Hinson said. “So I don’t even hear Points 5, 6 and 7 because I’m scared to death he’s going to ask me to repeat them all and I’m trying to go back in my mind to figure out Points 2, 3 and 4. Ever since I’ve coached, Point No. 1 has been my philosophy. If you come out of Oklahoma State, that’s what it is. You hear what coach (Self) talks about all the time.”
Hinson said he was on the verge of going into broadcasting when he received a call from Self and Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins.
“It’s been one of the most humbling experiences in my life because I’ve gone from telling people what to do to asking a manager if I can have a pair of socks,” Hinson said. “I’ll never forget what my dad (Bob Hinson) told me before I came here. He said, ‘Son, if Lew Perkins asks you to clean up that bathroom, you go in there and make sure that’s the cleanest bathroom in the University of Kansas. No matter what they ask you to do, you do it.’ It’s been humbling, but not in a degrading way. I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
It could be just a one-year stop for Hinson, whose coaching resume makes him an attractive candidate for the many Division I coaching jobs that will be open, but it will be a year he’ll never forget.
“I’m blown away, I mean blown away, by the family atmosphere in our athletic department,” Hinson said. “Blown away. That all starts from the top. I’ve been here long enough, I’ve read the papers, I know Lew’s taken a few bullets here. From my side that I get to witness every day, people enjoy coming to work. There’s a family here. I go in those Olympic sports offices on a daily basis. I’m telling you, there’s no faking going on over there. You’re talking about one of the largest athletic departments in the country and everybody loves everybody. That’s Indiana Jones right there. He’s out there looking for that. I’m telling you, that’s the Holy Grail.”
Hinson never found the Holy Grail of all college basketball coaches, never received that invitation to the dance.
At Kansas, making the NCAA Tournament field is a given. Perhaps if the Kansas players knew as well as Hinson what it feels like to be on the outside looking in, they would have shown more excitement when the CBS cameras caught their reaction in the Naismith Room in Allen Fieldhouse during the selection show.
In 2005-2006, Hinson invited CBS into his basement to film the Missouri State team’s reaction, which he expected to be one of jubilation.
“We’re 21 in the RPI,” Hinson said. “We don’t think we’re in, we know we’re in. We’ve got everyone and their dog associated with our program and our family in the basement because we know we’re in. And we’re juiced because we know we’re in. They go through the first regional. We say it’s OK. They go through the second, still OK, we’ve got two more regionals to go. Then we go through the third regional and we’re still not in. And then the thought crosses my mind going into the fourth one and then I start worrying. You could just see the mood has gone from giddy to just solemn. It’s like, uh-oh, our wildest nightmare, there’s no way this is going to come true, but it sure does look like there’s a possibility. When the last teams flashed on the board and that happened, I’m thinking, ‘Well, there’s another regional, isn’t there?’ You’re just sitting there and you know you’re on national television. There was probably 30 seconds of silence and everybody’s staring at the screen. We’re numb. We were stunned.”
CBS filmed Hinson’s team again the next year and the Nightmare on Barry Street replayed.
At long last, Hinson’s in the tournament. It’s not his team, but it’s his school now. Forgive him if he enjoys it like a kid who just opened a pack of baseball cards to find an image of World Series star Ryan Howard staring at him.