If you asked the average college basketball coach to choose between the jobs at Memphis or Tennessee, he probably wouldn't need a full day to decide. He might not need a full hour.
Knoxville is a great place to live, and a great sports town. It also has a good basketball program.
But the average college basketball coach would tell you that Memphis is a better job.
Bruce Pearl isn't your average college basketball coach. He proved that Thursday night when he said how happy he was to stay at UT, thus ending all the speculation connecting him with the vacant Memphis job.
UT basketball hasn't looked this good since it ascended to No. 1 in the polls after upsetting Memphis a year ago. Anyone outside of East Tennessee might consider Pearl's decision as an even bigger upset.
You don't know yet how much money Pearl will make from his renegotiated six-year contract with UT. But my best guess is that it won't approach what Memphis was offering after losing John Calipari to Kentucky.
Memphis has more than money going for it. It has a great fan base and a great recruiting base. And it has ridiculously easy access to the NCAA tournament. The Tigers can win Conference USA by showing up.
Memphis basketball is also - with apologies to the NBA's Grizzlies - the biggest show in town. At its best, UT basketball is still second to UT football. At its worst, it's behind UT football and Lady Vols basketball.
At least, that's how it might look to Coach X from Anywhere University. Fortunately for UT basketball, Pearl isn't Coach X. He has proved that before.
In a vagabond profession, Pearl's history for staying put is higher than average. He stuck with head coach Tom Davis for 10 years. He was a head coach at Southern Indiana for nine years and a head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for four.
You have to consider Pearl's comfort zone as well. He's clearly more comfortable as an underdog. Look at his track record, and it's easy to see why.
He was the head coach of a Division II school and at a mid-major program before he came to Tennessee. And while he served as an assistant coach at good programs, those programs weren't the best in their conferences. Sound familiar?
UT has gone to four consecutive NCAA tournaments under Pearl, but it can't come close to matching Kentucky's long-term success (seven NCAA championships) or Florida's short-term success (back-to-back national titles just two years ago). That's not a turnoff to Pearl, who enjoys chasing the powers that be. He likes beating them even more. In four years at UT, he is 7-1 against Florida and finished ahead of Kentucky in the SEC East every season.
Pearl also apparently likes being a part of the SEC. Football might come first in the conference, but the rivalries run deep, and they extend to all sports. Never mind whether the SEC is up or down. Conference games matter because there's a history behind them.
Pearl embraced UT's history and tradition as soon as he signed on with the Vols. He befriended and paid tribute to legendary Vols coach Ray Mears. He emphasized the importance of winning against longtime rivals Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Pearl has been Tennessee's coach for only four years, yet he promotes the program so vigorously and genuinely, that he seemingly has been here twice that long. Not only has he become a super salesman for the university, he has become a vital part of the community.
He might have done the same in Memphis, where he would have a better shot at winning a national championship. But that opportunity would come with greater expectations attached.
Calipari made 30-win seasons routine at Memphis and took the Tigers to the national championship game just a year ago. To top that, Pearl would have to win a national title. Conversely, UT has never made it to the elite eight of the NCAA tournament, much less competed for a national championship. There's more room to grow here.
And there's more optimism for growth after Pearl said he was staying at UT. If Memphis - with all it has to offer - couldn't lure him away, who can?
Now, Pearl can use his decision as a recruiting tool. When he asks an in-state recruit to choose UT over Memphis, he's not asking him to do anything the coach hasn't already done.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.