NORMAN — Oklahoma-Texas is one of the most heated rivalries in the country.
Mention Texas — it might not even be sports related — and Oklahoma fans' instinctively flash a downward Hook ‘em Horns.
But men's basketball coach Rick Barnes, whose No. 3 Longhorns visit Lloyd Noble Center Wednesday night, seems to be the exception — a Texas coach Oklahomans respect. And if they were willing to admit it, even like.
Too many stories surrounding the longest tenured Big 12 coach make it impossible to dislike Barnes.
OU women's basketball coach Sherri Coale calls Barnes a friend and a mentor. She will never forget Barnes taking her phone call 13 years ago early in her career or the many times he's been willing to talk basketball.
“I think people appreciate his humility, absence of arrogance,” Coale said. “(He is) a great, great competitor but is humble win, lose or draw. He doesn't take himself too seriously, either. That's my favorite thing about him.”
Traits which explain why some fans can't stand the Longhorns but rarely target Barnes.
The reasons Barnes would receive a higher than expected approval rating in Oklahoma are many:
* Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant, an icon in this market, has altered the view of Longhorn basketball.
* At Oklahoma State, Barnes' actions after the plane crash a decade ago and two weeks ago on the 10-year anniversary, plus his support of Sean Sutton, resonate with Cowboy fans.
* Most of the rivalry's emotions are tied to football. UT basketball produces less venom.
"He's one of those coaches that's real down to earth, real approachable," Durant said. "He's nice to everyone no matter what. Even if someone talks bad about him he's nice to you."
During warmups last week before playing OSU at Gallagher-Iba Arena, the Longhorns wore T-shirts handed out to the crowd, saying Remember the Ten. During the game, Texas bench players left them on. The team also brought 10 bouquets of flowers laid at the memorial.
"I told our team (about) the brevity of life," Barnes said. "I'm getting older now myself. This is just a game. That's all it is. Life goes by quick. I want our guys to learn some of those things."
It's those type of actions that have allowed fans to see Barnes for what he is — a coach that wins with class. A coach even rivals respect.
"Come on, this stuff is temporary what we do," Barnes said. "It's a game. It can't be the most important things in our lives. We have a chance to really affect people's lives the way we handle things. Sometimes people get way too caught up in it."
Barnes, 56, has earned respect with sustained success. Since he arrived from Clemson in 1998, the Longhorns have averaged nearly 24 wins, made one Final Four and two Elite Eight appearances.
Texas has 10 players in the NBA. When the Longhorns lost T.J. Ford, or LaMarcus Aldridge or Durant, Barnes was able to sign another wave of talent. Former players help spread the word.
"He treats you more like a father treats a son," Durant said. "He complimented us but never gave us too many compliments. He pushed us to our limit. He gets the most out of players. As a player you really respect a person like that.
"Ask any of the guys in the NBA, guys like myself, Royal Ivey, T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge or D.J. Augustin, and they'll tell you he's like a dad away from home."
You'll also never hear Barnes bad mouth another program. In fact, fans sometimes are shocked Barnes has developed relationships with OU athletic director Joe Castiglione and coaches Bob Stoops, Jeff Capel and Coale.
"We battle each other, but I have great respect for people at Oklahoma," Barnes said. "Take away the athletic side of it and they're great people. I can tell you that from my friendships with them."
Barnes views the Red River rivalry differently than some fans. That's why some fans view Barnes differently.
"It's a sporting event," Barnes said. "It's supposed to be fun, be competitive. We've all be in it long enough. In the past I've gotten caught up in it, too. But hopefully I'm old enough to realize it's not the most important thing in my life."
NO. 3 TEXAS AT OKLAHOMA
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Lloyd Noble Center
Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7
TV: ESPN2 (Cox channel 28)
Series: OU leads 47-30
Three things to know:
> Former QB Sam Bradford will be honored. The first 5,000 fans will receive Bradford posters.
> The Longhorns have won every conference game by double digits.
> Texas is ranked third nationally in FG percentage defense (36.4).