Tony Barbee has been announced as the new head men’s basketball coach at Central Michigan University.
After days of speculation and rumors, CMU Director of Athletics Amy Folan announced Friday that Barbee is set to become the 21st head coach in program history after seven seasons at Kentucky.
“Coach Barbee met all the criteria we had to find the right individual to re-energize our men’s basketball program and get us back to competing for championships,” Folan said. “He is a proven championship-caliber head coach, an elite recruiter who is well-versed in the national landscape and has a strong background in providing a great student-athlete experience on and off the court. I think the responsibility that coach John Calipari gave Tony to help run the Kentucky program speaks volumes.”
CMU Athletics will be formally introducing Barbee at a press conference at 2:30 p.m. ET, which will be live streamed on CSN Digital.
“I’m humbled and excited to be the next head coach at Central Michigan University,” Barbee said. “It’s been a dream of mine to be in the first chair leading another basketball program, and I’m grateful to President Davies and Athletics Director Amy Folan for their belief in me and my vision. The identity of our program will be built on sacrifice, accountability, respect, communication, winning and a family environment. I can’t wait to engage with both the current student-athletes and the former CMU Chippewas, get entrenched in the Mount Pleasant community and ‘Fire Up’ our great student section.”
During his time at Kentucky, Barbee served in three roles: associate to the head coach (2020-21), assistant coach (2015-20) and special assistant to the head coach (2014-15). He helped Kentucky win four Southeastern Conference regular-season championships and four SEC Tournament titles, and the Wildcats made five NCAA Tournament appearances including a Final Four berth in 2015.
Barbee also helped the Wildcats secure a top-three nationally ranked recruiting class every season he was with the program, including the nation’s top class in 2016, 2017 and 2020. He coached 13 NBA Draft selections at Kentucky, including 10 first-round picks and eight players taken in the lottery.
“The last seven seasons at Kentucky have been incredible,” Barbee said. “To have the opportunity to coach at a historic and tradition-rich school like Kentucky has been a dream come true, and I want to thank Coach Cal and Mitch Barnhart for placing their faith in me to be a part of this storied program. From the moment I first put on that jersey as a player at UMass through my time at Memphis and most recently at Kentucky as an assistant, Coach Cal has been a mentor to me. I have learned so much from him, and the players-first approach that we have instilled at every place we have been together will carry on with me at Central Michigan. I want to thank Mitch Barnhart for giving me the opportunity to work and grow as a coach. I will always cherish the incredible friends and memories we built over the last seven sessions. I enjoyed every second of it. Thank you to the Big Blue Nation for all of your love and support.”
Barbee has been a part of John Calipari’s Hall of Fame career both as a player and as a coach. Barbee was an important player in the remarkable turnaround at UMass in the early 1990s and served as an assistant in all three of Calipari’s college head coaching stops at UMass, Memphis and UK.
“Tony is one of the best coaches I have ever coached with or against,” Calipari said. “He has an unbelievable basketball mind. The game plans that he put together for us, especially on defense, were second to none. I have known him since he was 15 and I know how much this game means to him. He is my brother and always will be. I expect big things to happen for Central Michigan and their players under Tony’s leadership. He is ready for this and I look forward to watching his success.”
“We are going to build a championship-level program and play an exciting style that will be fun for the fans and the players,” Barbee said. “We will put together a tireless staff whose focus will be to help the players reach their goals and dreams and win championships along the way. Fire Up Chips!”