Published January 08, 2015
Chris Denson and the Auburn Tigers can't escape the questions about coach Tony Barbee's job security going into the Southeastern Conference tournament.
They just try not to spend too much time thinking about it.
"We hear it all the time, but we can't focus on that," Denson said on Monday. "As players, we know the situation but we've also got coach's back and we want to do everything we can to get this win in the SEC tournament."
Barbee's future at Auburn remains uncertain entering Wednesday night's first-round game against South Carolina.
Athletic director Jay Jacobs said after last season that his "expectation is for our program to show significant improvement under coach Barbee's leadership." The 12th-seeded Tigers (14-15, 6-12 SEC) have doubled their league win total but haven't been able to climb much higher in the league standings.
Barbee, whose tenure has been marked by a number of transfers and dismissals, has gone 18-50 in SEC games and don't have a winning season.
"As we always do, we will sit down with Tony after the season," Jacobs said Monday in a statement to The Associated Press.
Barbee has declined to address his job status and deflected a question Monday about whether the Tigers had met Jacobs' standard for significant improvement. Auburn would owe him about $2.4 million if he's fired after the season.
"I haven't even had time to evaluate it," Barbee said. "All I'm worried about is the SEC tournament in Atlanta and our game against South Carolina."
Auburn is coming off a road win over Texas A&M on the heels of lopsided losses to Tennessee and Alabama. The Tigers have lost six of their last nine.
Barring a surprising run in the SEC tournament, they'll fail to make the NCAA tournament or even the NIT for the fifth consecutive season. Barbee said he's not feeling the heat.
"I've never felt pressure in my life — not as a player, not as an assistant coach, not as a head coach," he said.
His rosters have been depleted by defections. Nine of Barbee's signees are no longer with the program. Jeff Lebo signee Earnest Ross left after Barbee's first season and became a starter at Missouri.
Seniors Denson and Allen Payne have stuck it out the past four years.
"A lot of people can't understand coach's philosophy and think that he doesn't like them," Denson said. "Instead, he was just trying to make them better.
"I could have left but I didn't because I know he was trying to make me better. I thank him for that. Me and Allen sticking around, that's just a result of us not quitting."
Auburn has lost in the first round of the SEC tournament in each of Barbee's first three seasons. The Tigers, who are coming off a road win over Texas A&M, have beaten South Carolina in both regular-season meetings.
The winner plays Arkansas, perhaps trying to keep Barbee's Auburn career going. Denson said that topic hasn't been talked about in the locker room.
"We have our coach's back no matter what," Payne said. "We're going to go down fighting as seniors and we'll worry about that stuff later. But right now we've got a job to do over in Atlanta, and it starts with South Carolina."