Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, left, celebrates with Kazeem Alli after the Bearcats defeated West Virginia 26-23 in overtime last Saturday.
Cincinnati football coach Brian Kelly can't match the career accomplishments of North Carolina coach Butch Davis. And he can't match the excitement generated by Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
But University of Tennessee fans should know that Kelly has more in common with Bruce Pearl than either Davis or Leach. If you're wondering what that has to do with UT football, you haven't been paying attention.
Pearl has become so popular after three seasons as UT's basketball coach, referencing his name could enhance almost any venture. For example, if you are looking for a car salesman, how fast would you check out someone whose resume presents him as a "Bruce Pearl-type personality?"
Pearl hasn't just won games at UT. He has won over fans by promoting the program like no one since the legendary Ray Mears.
You might argue that UT football promotes itself. That's true to a degree.
But this season's 3-7 record doesn't depict all the program's shortcomings. UT football has lacked excitement for a long time.
Why do you think so many fans want UT to hire Leach? He has the most exciting offense in college football.
Kelly doesn't win with Leach's flair, but he wins wherever he goes. And he wins over fans and media, too.
I talked to a couple of media-types who deal with Kelly. They both rave about the guy - and not just for his coaching. They give him high marks for his media accessibility and for his promotional skills. One of them said a businessman who heard Kelly speak described the experience as "electric."
Obviously, it's crucial that a college coach in a pro market be able to promote his product. Pearl had to do the same at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
There are other similarities between Kelly and Pearl.
Kelly was born in Chelsea, Mass. Pearl was born in Boston.
Kelly played linebacker at Assumption College. Pearl looks like he could have played linebacker at a small college.
For 13 years, Kelly was the coach at Division II Grand Valley State, where he won six conference titles. For nine years, Pearl was the coach at Division II Southern Indiana, where he never won fewer than 22 games in a single season.
Kelly took over a struggling program at Central Michigan, which improved each season under his direction. His third and final Central Michigan team went 9-4 and won the Mid-American Conference championship.
Pearl went from Southern Indiana to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His fourth and final team there finished 26-6 and advanced to the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Kelly won 10 games in his first season at Cincinnati and is 7-2 with four regular-season games remaining this season. Pearl has taken UT to three consecutive NCAA tournaments.
One UT fan took the comparison a step further. He spelled it out in an e-mail. Kelly and Pearl both have five letters in their first and last names.
That clinches it right? UT has to consider Kelly.
UT wouldn't be the first big-name school to be linked to Kelly. His name came up last season in conjunction with the Michigan vacancy. He had no comment on that speculation. He also declined to comment last week when asked about the UT job.
But if the Vols are interested in Kelly and they want to get him interested in them, maybe they should have Pearl give him a call. The two couldn't help but hit it off.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.