Adams: Pearl's decision a big in-state victory

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 adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 30

geniuspearl writes:

first. now I'm a loser

rockitwithrespect writes:

bruce is the man. glad hes staying

bhorton#213253 writes:

Thanks for sticking with us, Bruce. You'll be glad you did.

txsvol#372416 writes:

Good article, John! As one of your usual critics where football articles are concerned, I'll give you credit where due. "Couldn't have said it better, myself!" SAVol

SandyLoyCCM writes:

You obviously haven't spent much time in Memphis John.

Anyone who thinks that the Memphis job is better than the UT job is drinking Tiger Blue kool aid!

Memphis is a commuter school...it is like comparing Gonzaga to Washington...they may flash onto the scene with a hot coach but over time they fade out.

We are THE University of Tennessee John. Glad Bruce is staying...he may leave at some point but not for a glorified community college.

navyvol writes:

Thanks for staying Coach! It's going to be even more entertaining playing calamari 2x/yr!! I disagree about winning championships in Memphis however...if BP continues to build the program, he will have opportunities to win it all. I live in the Memphis area and I can't help but smile a bit to listen to the Memphis State fans cry, but I have to admit, the UT/Memphis State game will be no where near the fun when we beat them next year as it was in the past....but beating the kitty cats to the north will more than make up for it! Thanks again Coach Pearl and GO VOLS!!!

I wonder if Memphis State can get Dana Kirk to come back?

vol_chaz writes:

He's loyal to his players..perhaps this could be a sign that Tyler is coming back?

DCVolFan (Inactive) writes:

It'll be interesting to see how many Tiger High recruits rethink their leanings, how many of this years guys go pro, and how many games into the year their C-USA win streak comes to an end.

Go Vols!

Colliervol writes:

in response to DCVolFan:

It'll be interesting to see how many Tiger High recruits rethink their leanings, how many of this years guys go pro, and how many games into the year their C-USA win streak comes to an end.

Go Vols!

That's easy. Cousins and Henry won't be there. I figure Cousins will follow Cal and Henry will go to Kansas. Forget John Wall (probably KY or Duke). Dennis and the jucos might stay at Memphis but even that's doubtful. The real question is if the two current players, Sallie and Witherspoon decide to stay. Depends on who they get for a coach, I guess.

Colliervol writes:

I haven't read it but the Memphis TV news tonight was talking about an article that David Climer wrote about Memphis today in the Nashville paper. They said it was a scathing article about Memphis folks not being realistic about their status in the world of college basketball. I never knew Climer to be a UT fan. Guess I need to read it.

KCHS63 writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'm UT through and through, but...

1. Memphis seems to have had several flash in the pan coaches, as you call them. There was Memphis basketball before there was John Calipari. They've been to the big stage more than once. Just sayin'. Let's be honest, okay?

2. Lady Vols: What coach has brought the most honor and distinction to the University of Tennessee in the past 35 years? The men more money? Yes, you're right. But, the partnership between men's and women's basketball at the University of Tennessee is the best in the country and it's strong. Put it down if you like. Sorry something so positive makes you feel so negative.

FWBVol writes:

in response to Colliervol:

I haven't read it but the Memphis TV news tonight was talking about an article that David Climer wrote about Memphis today in the Nashville paper. They said it was a scathing article about Memphis folks not being realistic about their status in the world of college basketball. I never knew Climer to be a UT fan. Guess I need to read it.

I ran across the Climer column earlier in the evening and I thought it was great. The reaction of the Memphis fans only validated what Climer said about Tiger fans being unrealistic about the place of Memphis in the college basketball world.

I haven't lived in Memphis since LBJ was president, but my dad is a native of Memphis and both of his parents are buried there. My earliest memories are of Memphs, but I haven't been back in more than 20 years. I state those things to show I have no bias against the city or, for that matter, the University of Memphis.

The fact is UTK is the state's land grant university. And being a graduate of the University of Tennessee carries a little more perceived prestige in most areas than being a Memphis grad would.

Everyone talks about the great run the Tigers have had in basketball the last four years, but here's something to think about, even during the best four-year stretch in the team's history, UT has split with them two wins in four games.

No matter how you slice it, the University of Tennessee will always be Tennessee and the University of Memphis will be, well Memphis.

allvol9 writes:

Nice article John. Thanks Bruce for being all vol!

ArealVolFan writes:

in response to KCHS63:

I'm UT through and through, but...

1. Memphis seems to have had several flash in the pan coaches, as you call them. There was Memphis basketball before there was John Calipari. They've been to the big stage more than once. Just sayin'. Let's be honest, okay?

2. Lady Vols: What coach has brought the most honor and distinction to the University of Tennessee in the past 35 years? The men more money? Yes, you're right. But, the partnership between men's and women's basketball at the University of Tennessee is the best in the country and it's strong. Put it down if you like. Sorry something so positive makes you feel so negative.

Don't even bother. This guy is a huge sexist. Most normal people, UT fans included appreciate very much what Pat and the Lady Vols have done for the ladies side of the basketball world. This guy is just weird. He loves Pearl, hates Kiffin, hates Hamilton, and has a man crush on Geno at UCONN. People like him make the world worse and don't deserve the time of day it takes to make a response. That is the one terrible thing about the internet...it lets all the little weasels, and racists, and sexists hide and act like they are worth something to society.

IBleedOrange444 writes:

"If Memphis - with all it has to offer - couldn't lure him away, who can?"

LMAO at John Adams!

He was joking right?

murrayvol writes:

in response to geniuspearl:

first. now I'm a loser

Yes, but you're first. No one can ever take that away from you.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Colliervol:

I haven't read it but the Memphis TV news tonight was talking about an article that David Climer wrote about Memphis today in the Nashville paper. They said it was a scathing article about Memphis folks not being realistic about their status in the world of college basketball. I never knew Climer to be a UT fan. Guess I need to read it.

He's not a UT fan but he is realistic.

murrayvol writes:

Good piece John. Don't agree with all you said but then I could be worng.

Until now CUSA has been a mid-major + Memphis. Depending on their hire (and it ain't lookin' too good) you might strike + Memphis.

Cal was a star who could recruit, schmooze, and coach a little until his sphincter tightened. He's gone and now (in most years) UM will have to win the tournament to dance. Being a Murray St. fan (OVC) I can tell you that's no lock.

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to Nivram:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

1. more than 20
2. UT
3 and 4: deepr run, based on better seed.

UT lost several tough games in 2008-2009 by very narrow margins. The law of averages being what they are, UT pulls out those same types of games next year.

My predication is based on
-Scotty getting MUCH better
-Woolridge playing better (or leaving)
-Negedu getting serious minutes
-Goins being the real deal
-Maze playing as a 2-guard

Some added possibles
-Tyler retruns, but plays team ball, not Tyler ball
-Chism and Williams actally play IN THE POST.
-Daneil West plays (is he still involved???)
-Jurick pushes for PT

All-in-all, we will be a deep, experienced team. Next year, all eyes will be on UK; that's the way Bruce likes it, rather than being favored.

memphis_vol_fan writes:

in response to Nivram:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

1. 20+

2. UK

3. yes

4. It all depends on their draw.

mikeah1963 writes:

in response to SandyLoyCCM:

You obviously haven't spent much time in Memphis John.

Anyone who thinks that the Memphis job is better than the UT job is drinking Tiger Blue kool aid!

Memphis is a commuter school...it is like comparing Gonzaga to Washington...they may flash onto the scene with a hot coach but over time they fade out.

We are THE University of Tennessee John. Glad Bruce is staying...he may leave at some point but not for a glorified community college.

Have been saying the same thing all week. We are The University of Tennessee. I have a lot of Fraternity Brothers from Memphis and love the city, however Memphis State is not a real school it does not even feel like a college. Great move Coach Pearl.

CoverOrange writes:

The undercurrent of what JA is saying is that if Pearl ever does leave, UTBB is up a creek, not only without a paddle but a canoe with a hole, the creek is dry anyway, it's beginning to snow and it lost its compass somewhere in the woods.

bluetiger writes:

I think this was a great column, and I'm glad Pearl isn't coming to Memphis. I just don't like him, and after last season, I had my doubts that he would have been worth the salary. Had he come, however, I would have supported him because I love the program. And Memphis basketball is, like Adams pointed out, THE sport in Memphis. It's tradition, and if you didn't grow up there loving the Tigers, then you will never understand. Tiger basketball united the city just four years after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King caused seemingly unsurmountable racial division. It's the one thing we as a community can always agree and come together on. Memphis fans embrace our players like family. There is no color in Memphis basketball. You won't go to the Memphis blogs and see insults with racial undertones about our players after they've had a bad game. I've seen that time and time again on the KNS boards about the UT players, and I always find it sad and disturbing.

That said, after reading these comments, I am so glad I moved back to Memphis from Knoxville.

My father told me that when someone continually puts down another person or institution, it doesn't diminish the other person or institution one iota. But it does diminish that person.

Just call me a proud University of Memphis graduate who is glad to be home. Beale Street tonight!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to bluetiger:

I think this was a great column, and I'm glad Pearl isn't coming to Memphis. I just don't like him, and after last season, I had my doubts that he would have been worth the salary. Had he come, however, I would have supported him because I love the program. And Memphis basketball is, like Adams pointed out, THE sport in Memphis. It's tradition, and if you didn't grow up there loving the Tigers, then you will never understand. Tiger basketball united the city just four years after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King caused seemingly unsurmountable racial division. It's the one thing we as a community can always agree and come together on. Memphis fans embrace our players like family. There is no color in Memphis basketball. You won't go to the Memphis blogs and see insults with racial undertones about our players after they've had a bad game. I've seen that time and time again on the KNS boards about the UT players, and I always find it sad and disturbing.

That said, after reading these comments, I am so glad I moved back to Memphis from Knoxville.

My father told me that when someone continually puts down another person or institution, it doesn't diminish the other person or institution one iota. But it does diminish that person.

Just call me a proud University of Memphis graduate who is glad to be home. Beale Street tonight!

Just to expand a little on what Marc said, you and a couple of other Tiger fans have always represented the best in UM fandom. Some of the people Marc cited...not so much. In fact, I would argue that, on this site at least, ANY racist or other types of contemptuous slams at Memphis, the school or the city, have been direct responses to their calculated insults to us.

I cringe every time I read such types of comments, no matter who makes them, but I also recognize that very often people get back what they give out. I would hope we could all be better than that, but sports fandom has the potential, just like sports themselves, to bring out the best AND the worst in people.

Most of us Vol fans recognize how successful UM basketball has been in several different eras; that is why it was a source of pride to us to beat them when we have. We know how bad most Memphis fans feel right now. Fans like you deserve a quick resurgence; fans like the ones Marc named...not so much.

johnlg00 writes:

BTW, bluetiger, I would say that the majority of derogatory racist comments directed toward UT players come from interlopers. It is not always easy on an open forum like this to distinguish a school's fans from its opponents, screen-names being what they are. Not everybody who posts on here with "Vol" in their screen-name is in fact a Vol fan. Those of us who are on here a lot know who many of them are, but an occasional visitor like yourself might not. No question there ARE a few "old-school" racists on here who DO claim to be Vol fans, but most of us know who they are, too.

beartn#223846 writes:

A few thoughts.

First, the Memphis job is a good job. The things they can offer that Tennessee doesn't have are more money, a nicer arena, and the coach is the king of the city instead of playing second fiddle to football.

Another thing, I have seen several posters on various sports pages asking what has Pearl done that merits so much attention (implying that Memphis woudl overpay him and that he is overrated). The main stat I would point to is attendance. We average around 12,000 per game the year before Pearl came. We average around 21,000 per game now. Think about how much additional revenue he has brought in from additional ticket sales, parking fees, and concession sales that an extra 9,000 pay for around 18 home games. I'm sure it is easily more than $5 million per year. Also, going to the NCAA 4 years in a row is a big deal for a program that has ony had sporadic success before. He took basically the same players that had a losing season the year before he came, and got a 2 seed in the NCAA. He is also #3 for active coaches in winning % without ever being at a major program that is able to feast on creampuffs. His worth to Tennessee is huge, and worth every penny.

abnerPeabody writes:

in response to marc_ash#231781:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Aint it thre truth?

txvolsfan writes:

in response to txsvol#372416:

Good article, John! As one of your usual critics where football articles are concerned, I'll give you credit where due. "Couldn't have said it better, myself!" SAVol

I agree with you Doc. This was a well written article.

Canadien writes:

"But the average college basketball coach would tell you that Memphis is a better job."

Then maybe Tiger High needs to start looking at below average coaches because every coach they've approached so far has rejected them. Maybe Memphis can get in the Buzz Peterson sweepstakes and battle Appy State.

I wish I could get a job for a newspaper like Mr. Adams and get paid good money for being so wrong.

Canadien writes:

Buzz Peterson has MORE coaching experience and objective credentials than the guy the Tigers finally had to hire. So much for Mr. Adams' assessment of the coaching profession's opinion of the University of Memphis job. WOW!

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