To Saluki fans, Barry Hinson used to be the villain.
As head basketball coach at Southwest Missouri State University — now Missouri State University — he led the Bears against the Salukis for nine seasons, exchanging wins and losses along the way. In 2008, he was terminated from his head coaching position. The pain of the ending of his run at Missouri State continued to resonate with Hinson every day. He transitioned to the University of Kansas, where he eventually became director of basketball operations.
But while at Kansas, he longed for another shot at a head coaching position.
“It burns in you, and you obviously want a second chance,” he said. “I had second chances, but they weren’t the right second chances.”
When Southern Illinois University Athletic Director Mario Moccia and an interviewing committee offered Hinson a chance at replacing Chris Lowery as the Salukis head coach, he had to take the opportunity. He knew the SIU program well; he knew its reputation, as well as its potential.
In March, he was offered that position. But, that didn’t mean all his past sins were forgiven. Walking through the aisles of local grocery stores, Hinson still finds himself greeted by fans, many of whom recall his days leading the Bears.
“I’ve had little old ladies tell me, ‘I used to hate you,’” he said. “It makes for a funny story now, but I just believe I’m meant to be the head coach here at Southern Illinois, and I’m extremely happy about it.”
Here is what else Hinson had to say about his new role and his new home in Southern Illinois:
Can you tell us a little about your background and what brought you to SIU?
I had a familiarity with the school because I was a coach in the Missouri Valley Conference for nine years at Southwest Missouri, now known as Missouri State. I had more than several opportunities through the nine years to compete at Southern Illinois, and when you compete against someone else, and you’re from afar, you obviously form an opinion.
The opinion I formed is that Southern Illinois is obviously a very good educational institution, but, at the same time, it also had a traditionally rich athletic program, which included men’s basketball.
You left a high-profile position at Kansas, a national powerhouse in men’s basketball. Was it a tough decision to leave to come to SIU?
I think it’s a tough decision whenever you leave to go anywhere. I don’t think that ever changes. If you are emotionally involved in your job, I think there are always hard decisions to make.
When you pick up and move, no matter the length of residency, there’s always an emotional charge to it. The emotional charge to me was because I was so close with Bill Self, head coach at Kansas. We were so close to him and his family, and we were so close to the staff members. We had become part of an athletic team there at Kansas over the course of four years, which we got very comfortable with.
The decision was not tough; the decision was easy. The move was emotional. I think that’s where you kind of have to divide it up. It’s always emotional, if you put everything into a job or where you live.
Are you looking forward to being back in a head coaching role?
When I was at Kansas, I had several opportunities to become a head coach, but they just weren’t the right places for me. And, those were easy decisions, as well, because they weren’t in areas or at schools conducive for me to have success or for me to be happy.
When this job came available, I saw all of that. I saw it as conducive for success; I saw it as conducive for my wife and I to be happy. We really enjoy this area. We were both raised in small schools, and we’re both from areas where agriculture is huge. We come from blue-collar backgrounds, and we felt we fit this neighborhood and this area really well.
You’re obviously familiar with SIU and the Missouri Valley Conference. What advantages does that lend you as a coach, and how does it feel to be back in the MVC?
In the nine years I was part of the Valley, I never once hid my emotions regarding the Valley. I was always pro-Missouri Valley Conference; I always stood up for the league. I was the dean of the league for a short period of time.
I really felt I was a great advocate for the Missouri Valley Conference in the nine years I put into it, so when
I had a chance to come to Carbondale as head coach and be part of the Valley, that was part of that easy decision. I told the interviewing committee, I want to come home, and when I said that, I really meant it.
And home for me meant being part of the Missouri Valley Conference and the familiarity with all the schools we compete against.
What should fans expect from the team this season and from you as a coach?
My expectations never change — never. When I’ve been out and about, everyone asks me: What are your expectations for next year’s team? I just tell them, I hope you didn’t hire a head coach that would have any philosophy other than this, and I don’t know any coach who has a different philosophy. We prepare to win every game, every game. I don’t think you ever wake up and go into work at your job, or you go to school, or you go to take a test where you say, today I want to be average, or today I want to be second place. We are going to prepare to win every game that we play.
Now, I’m also a realist, and what that means to me is that we just attack every game, every day in the very best way we can to improve our program. It’s well documented that we have major challenges before us; we’ve got major issues in front of us.
But, at the same time, I always go back and look at the history of a program. When you look back in the past and you see the roller coaster of events that a school or a university has been through, and you see how they’ve dug out of those holes, and they become the top of the conference, the best of the programs, it bodes well for itself. It’s always on track for success. It just takes a little bit of effort, a little bit of focus, and, hopefully, we can provide that.
In recent years, fan support has dwindled. What message do you want to send to fans who have veered away?
It’s pretty simple. Everybody wants to point the finger and blame somebody or blame the past. I don’t know what happened in the past. I don’t have a clue. I wasn’t here. I wasn’t part of it. All I know is what I could take care of from the moment I landed here.
Words are easy. I’ve told people: If you want to judge this program, judge our program by our kids and how they do in the classroom, how hard they play on the floor, how successful they are outside the classroom.
If we’re not doing our job four, five, six years down the road, and they’re not coming, I understand that.
If you look at my resumé and how I view academics, how I view our kids’ behavior in the community and outside the Arena, we’ve had success. Does that mean we’re going to be perfect? Does that mean we’re going to have perfect records? Absolutely not.
I can’t guarantee wins. I can’t guarantee victories. But, what I can guarantee is that every single day we come into this office as a staff, we have a plan to turn this program around and have success.
What about Southern Illinois appealed to you outside the university environment? Have you had a chance to get out and see much of the region yet?
That’s one thing I have had the chance to do. I’ve done at least half a dozen caravans throughout the state of Illinois, and I have been to every small community, whether it be with the caravan or a social activity. I feel like FDR in his first 100 days.
I’ve been all over the country, whether it be recruiting or just meeting people. I have a philosophy that you go to lunch every day, and you try to become a part of the community. My wife wasn’t here for such a long time, and it was just me, so I’d pick a new place to eat every day, whether it was in Carbondale, Murphysboro, Herrin, Harrisburg, Mount Vernon, Cobden, Anna, Marion, Carterville. I would pick a place every day that I could at least go eat and maybe meet somebody new. I still do it today with my staff.
I feel like I’m made for this area. I’ve been on a tractor. I’ve lived on a farm. I’ve worked on a ranch. I get it. I come from a blue-collar background and so does my wife. We feel extremely comfortable here.
What is your family life like? What are some of your hobbies and interests when you’re not on the court?
One thing about being a basketball coach, especially with today’s world and the Internet, you can’t do anything without people knowing about it. It’s been well advertised that I love barbecue. I love to cook it, and I love to eat it.
I love to play golf. I haven’t been much of a hunter or a fisherman because time doesn’t really allow for that as a basketball coach. But, obviously, in this area, that may change a little bit. I just enjoy being outside. I like working in the yard; that’s kind of my therapy.
I have two daughters. One graduated from Missouri State University and runs a children’s clothing store in Springfield, and my older daughter lives in Valle, Colo. She and her husband gave my
wife and I our first grandchild a year ago Feb. 14. We have a Valentine’s Day grandson.
While you were in Kansas, you did a local radio segment called “Basketball and Barbecue.” Have you had a chance to sample any of Southern Illinois’ selection?
I’ve had a chance to sample all of it, I promise you that. I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been to every 17th Street Bar & Grill location, whether just going to lunch or going to a caravan event. I’ve been to Grumpy’s. I’ve been to Great Boars of Fire.
I enjoy going to the Midland Inn because it’s close to where my house is going to be. My wife and I have spent quite a bit of time out there. I’ve also discovered Giant City Lodge. I like going out there just because of the history of the lodge and their history with Southern Illinois basketball.
I’m pretty simple. If I find out people support our program, that’s where I like to go. If I purchase something for my house, if I go eat somewhere, if I need some help with something, I like to hire those people who support Saluki basketball or Saluki Athletics. It’s a big deal to me.
What are your long-terms goals, as both a coach and an individual?
When you make goals, you have to keep them simple, and you have to have a road map of what you want to do. I think the biggest thing is that, first and foremost, I want to go to heaven. Second, I want to be the best possible father and husband. And, third, when my feet hit the ground every day, I want to do the very best at whatever I’m going to try to do that day.
That’s kind of been my philosophy of life. I’d like to say that I’ve met all three categories perfectly, but that’s the great part of goals and the great part of life — I haven’t. I’ve come up short on all three. You just try to keep getting better and better every day.