Bruce Pearl chokes up when talking about his son
Fittingly on Groundhog Day, Bruce Pearl emerged from the gym to forecast six more weeks of SEC basketball.
"We're still in position to do all that we want to do,'' Pearl told the Big Orange Tipoff Club at its weekly luncheon Wednesday.
Six weeks hence Tennessee should be prepping for a first-round NCAA tournament game. That's no small accomplishment given the adversity the Vols continue to endure.
While Pearl was upbeat while addressing a room full of basketball fans at noon, he dreaded the moment that was coming later in the afternoon.
After the Vols practiced at Thompson-Boling Arena, everyone but Pearl would leave for tonight's game at Auburn.
"I can't tell you that I haven't cried every single time that bus pulls away,'' Pearl said.
After the home game against Alabama on Saturday, Pearl will be back in business seven days a week.
The Vols are 4-2 - including road wins at Georgia and Ole Miss - under the game-day direction of associate head coach Tony Jones and the rest of the staff. They need a win at Auburn to stay on Florida's heels in the SEC East.
If there was a theme to Pearl's talk Wednesday, it was family.
And it started with Pat Summitt.
"He's like a brother to me,'' the Lady Vols coach told the Tipoff audience. "I appreciate having someone right down the hall I can go to to talk shop.''
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Some of that shop talk, apparently, involved family.
Both coaches have sons who are walk-ons on Pearl's squad.
Pearl said it was Summitt who pointed out that his son, Steven, deserved a slot in the Vols' rotation:
"She said, 'You're not seeing what I'm seeing: He makes your team better ... so you do the right thing.
"I said, 'Yes, ma'am.' ''
Two sentences later, Pearl halted, choked up.
"I can't talk about him without getting emotional,'' he said. "I love him so much.
"Gosh knows what he's held to.''
"That was unplanned. Sorry.''
The crowd applauded. Pearl wiped his eyes as he changed the subject from his son to the SEC race.
Some in the national media have scoffed at Pearl's proclivity to tear up, suggesting even that it's calculated.
It's not. I've seen his emotions bubble to the surface in a one-on-one, off-the-record conversation.
So if he says watching the team bus pull away moves him to tears, I believe it.
Pearl held it in check Wednesday while talking about his extended family - his program.
He threw Jones a nod for SEC Coach of the Year, praised the players for responding to adversity they had no role in creating and harped on the value of continuity.
"Tony is one of my best friends,'' he said. "We've been together a long, long time. I've known Steve Forbes for 25 years.
"Jason Shay was a high school senior when I was an assistant coach at Iowa. There was no way he was good enough to walk on at Iowa. We had a bunch of kids more athletic and better players ... but I couldn't find anybody any tougher.''
There was an empty seat Wednesday when the bus pulled away. Tonight, the family will have to hang tough again.