Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Bruce Pearl Fired at Tennessee, and Why I Still Like Him
I had heard through the grapevine before Christmas that Bruce Pearl was going to be fired at the end of this season, based on his unethical conduct and violations of NCAA rules. Honestly, I wondered if UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton had the cajones to make that kind of move against a wildly popular and successful head coach. I was hoping that Tennessee would make a run in the NCAA Tournament to put a little pressure on Hamilton, but after watching that second half they played against Michigan, it was obvious that it was Pearl last dance at UT.
If you're not familiar with the situation, here's my Reader's Digest version: Amongst other minor violations (improper contacting of recruits) Coach Pearl knowingly hosted an illegal cookout at his home in 2008. Apparently he told the recruits and their families during the barbeque to keep it a secret and not mention it to anyone. Pictures leaked showing recruits at his home. Again, a violation. When the NCAA got the photos and asked Pearl about them, he lied about holding the cookout and instructed his assistant coaches to do the same. Now this is akin to telling you're parents you made a A on your Math test, while they're holding the test with a big red F on it behind their back. Leading your own death march, some may call it. The irony of all this is that Bruce Pearl was a former whitsleblower against Illinois when he was an assistant at Iowa in the late 80's. See more about this story here: Click Me!
Now let's talk about the good stuff about Bruce Pearl and why I still like him:
1. He's a winner-He is one of very few coaches who has led multiple programs to the Sweet 16 (UT and UW-Milwaukee). He took Tennessee to the NCAA tournament in all six years on the job; no small feat. He also coached for a D-II national championship at Sothern Indiana before leaving for Milwaukee.
2. He's endearing to the fans-From wearing the orange blazer (pictured above) to going shirtless and painting his chest for a UT women's game, they guy understands the fans and how to promote his program. He has a big personality and is afunloving and intense coach. I know my fair share of Tennessee fans and none ever had a negative thing to say about his success in running their program.
3. His teams are fun to watch-Coach Pearl's aggresive, uptempo style of play is fun to watch and is attractive to fans. Even as a Georgia fan I have enjoyed watching Tennessee play basketball under Pearl, even though I have to dissociate myself from that ugly shade of orange. His ability to control the tempo of the game on defense has led to many of the Volunteers' wins in the last six years.
4. He is also able to adapt his style of play to fit his players strengths-Early in his tenure at UT, Pearl had prolific outside shooters (like Chris Lofton) and had the ability to outscore most of the teams in the country. But when needed, his teams later in his tenure could grind games out defensively in the half court. To me,one of the most important characteristics of a coach is the ability to adapt in game and from game-to-game to give your players the best chance of winning.
In conclusion, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Bruce Pearl is working in TV next year. His personality would go over well with viewers in that line of work. However, if I were an Athletic Director at a university looking to fill a head coaching job, especially at one of the mid-majors that are about to lose their coach to a high major program (VCU, Utah State, Richmond) I would give Bruce Pearl a long, hard look. He may be too big of a risk due to the dark cloud of violations hanging over his head, but he will coach again somewhere, and I'd take him at my school any day.