John Adams: Bruce Pearl didn't just embrace UT fan base, he became a part of it

John Adams

Fans react to Tennessee's firing of coach Bruce Pearl

Vol Hoops 2010-2011: Out-Dribbled by Distraction and Disappointment

Did Tennessee make the right decision regarding Bruce Pearl?

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Bruce Pearl had just been hired as Tennessee's men's basketball coach when I met him in Philadelphia, where the Lady Vols were playing in an NCAA regional in March 2005.

Aware of his pace in the previous few days, I said, "Looks like you've been on a fast break."

"I live on a fast break," he said, smiling.

Most of his teams played that way, too. They kept pressing on the accelerator in pursuit of the basket or the ball while their coach burned almost as many calories at courtside.

And he didn't care if you saw him sweat.

Remember that night at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla., when you wondered if he might drown in his own perspiration? The national television audience was more concerned about what was going on with Pearl's body than the coach was. He was too immersed in the job at hand.

You didn't have to see him on game night to appreciate that.

I remember talking to a UT professor during a December afternoon practice in Pearl's first season before the coach had revived a beleaguered program or captivated the Big Orange fan base. The professor said he occasionally attended practices because he was so impressed with Pearl as a teacher.

Pearl won over just about everyone - faculty, students, longtime fans and new ones - in his six-year revival of UT basketball. The era ended traumatically Monday when one of the most popular coaches in school history was told he had been fired for his role in NCAA violations.

The outcome wouldn't have been so painful for UT fans if Pearl had just been successful or just been likable.

His predecessor, Buzz Peterson, was likable. But he didn't win. Before Peterson, Jerry Green won but didn't win over fans.

Pearl did both. And he did it with a flair and passion that rarely waned.

He also did it with a sense of history. Pearl embraced UT traditions at the same time he was revitalizing the program with a fresh approach and a new burst of energy.

Almost everyone knows that he wore the orange blazer for rivalry games with Vanderbilt and Kentucky as a tribute to legendary UT basketball coach Ray Mears. But you might have forgotten that when Mears died, Pearl's players and staff attended the memorial service as a team.

Pearl and Mears saw their job the same way. They realized it extended beyond strategy and recruiting; that it was as much about promoting as coaching, as much about the fans as the players.

Mears coined the term, "Big Orange Country." Pearl plopped down in the middle of the Big Orange student body with his bare chest ablaze in orange paint for a nationally televised Lady Vols game.

He didn't need an audience to show his colors.

While once walking past a thicket of fans outside Sanford Stadium before a UT-Georgia kickoff, I noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Pearl was just another UT fan on an SEC Saturday night, and the native New Englander looked right at home.

That transition explains, in part, why most UT fans can so readily forgive his NCAA transgressions. That's also why his departure is so agonizing.

Pearl didn't just resurrect their basketball program. He became one of them.

And he did it in fast-break time.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com

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Comments » 52

roloyo writes:

The best thing to ever to UT basketball......and probably the worse. Sad, very sad. Good Luck BP

M_VOL writes:

Probably the right thing was done....but it doesn't make it any easier to accept.

seadaddy writes:

Good luck Coach Pearl

SummittsCourt writes:

146-61 without any NBA caliber players, first time ranked #1, winning record vs ranked teams, 6 straight years in the tourney, & many other things. He was willing to accept that he was playing on Summitts Court.

Bruce Pearl can never be replaced!

BleedsOrangeinMO writes:

in response to M_VOL:

Probably the right thing was done....but it doesn't make it any easier to accept.

I agree 100%.

agohn writes:

I've never had such hatred for this administration as I do now. Shame on you for doing this to a great community leader and man.

ClockworkOrange writes:

Absolutely and literally SICK TO MY STOMACH!!! Hurts to be a Vol fan (except for women's Bball, but who cares about that?)

Please make IT STOP>>>>>

forkball writes:

Could just puke.

roloyo writes:

TBA, will sound like an empty warehouse next year. Smart move Hammy. If you want to stop the water, you go to the head of the stream, you POS

JBruce writes:

Bruce Pearl made it great to be a Tennessee Volunteer. His enthusiasm and passion was infectious. That is why we love him and why we will miss him. He embraced us and became one of us! Thanks for all the good memories Coach Pearl!

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor on the record many many times as a Pearl supporter and too sick..but its time to move on. Witch Doctor say plenty of people blaming alot of people but Pearl did do this to himself. Witch Doctor wish Pearl best but Witch Doctor still about the living so we move on and support the next guy cause it wasnt him that caused this..it was Bruce.
Go Vols.
Bones never lie.

volholic#282380 writes:

in response to agohn:

I've never had such hatred for this administration as I do now. Shame on you for doing this to a great community leader and man.

Come on! I like Pearl as much as anyone and am as sad as anyone. But how can what happened translate to hatred of a group that decided to have standards and uphold them? Like it or not, while Pearl did so many right things, he did some fatally wrong things. When your leaders fail those they are leading, and especially when they are not are not forthcoming about having done it, there is little choice but to remove them. I hate what happened, but not those who did what they felt they had to do.

77VolFS writes:

I came out of the womb with orange blood but this day and the way UT handled it has made me sick at my stomach. This man did too much for UT Men's Basketball and our community to be treated in this manner on his last day. Shame on Cheek & Hamilton.

lvhemphill#250428 writes:

My vote is to fire both Cheeks and Hamilton, rehire Pearl, and then tell the NCAA and ESPN were they can stuff it. Cheeks probably signed the death of Tennessee Basketball, cause he and Hamilton will hire a loser of a coach and we will labor returning to being the same old sorry teams we came to know in the 90s and early 2000s losers. Have absolutely no faith in any of those idiots in charge up there on the Hill in Knoxville, win and win now should be the motto, jmo. I may never forgive those for lying to the press and firing Pearl. They are a joke.

hueypilot writes:

In the fall of his first year at Tennessee, I saw Bruce and his wife and a couple of kids, in orange tee shirts waiting outside Ben Hill Griffin in Gainesville before the Vols played Florida. I asked him what was up and he said that since coaching at little Southern Indiana and Wisconsim Milwaukee he had been away from big time college football, like he had experienced at Iowa when he coached there. He ssid he missed it and he wanted to experience it as a fan. He was out there on the sidewalk with us common folk, not big dogging it in a sky box.

We will not see the likes of Bruce Pearl again and it is indeed a sad day for Tennessee.

govols1234567 writes:

I miss this guy already. At least he admitted the truth in the end and tried to make it right. Good luck Coach. Thanks for letting America know Tennessee even had a basketball team. We were nothing much without you

TheREALFightSong writes:

Thank you, John Adams, for writing this article at this time. We've heard enough about the violations and all of the drama; it's a welcome relief to step back and reflect on some of the positives of the last 6 years. Here's hoping UT can manage some positives within the Men's Basketball program in the coming 6 years...

givehim6 writes:

Really John? Seems to me a few weeks ago you was posting about how CBP should be fired. Now your wrighting fond memories? Burning both ends of the candle are you?

spencer1989#206886 writes:

I hope this sick feeling goes away in the immediate future.....But right now my heart and gut is telling me to not contribute a single dollar in support to UT in any fashion. Maybe if there are some other changes in personnel made to go with this, then maybe this feeling will go away or change. But right now, this is a sick feeling that is rotting me inside.

Razor784 writes:

Best article JA has ever written, Bruce will definitely never be forgotten.

Classof72 writes:

Will the last person to leave TBA please turn out the lights? The party's over.

jarvol writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

sstirrer writes:

The University has lacked qualified and admirable administration since Ed Bowling and Joe Johnson. It has lacked great administration since Andy Holt. (Personally, I think the same applies to the leadership of our country. When did we last have a great leader and Statesman as a President, but that's another story.)
WWAD? What would Andy do? He would have said "Coach Pearl has made some mistakes, just as we all have, and we have dealt with them in an appropriate manner. We welcome the good folks at the NCAA to review our decisions," and gone on about his business of running a great school. He would not have flinched over what the NCAA MIGHT do in sanctions.
One of my golfing group, a West Point grad, Special Ops Officer, and rugby player, summed it up well earlier tonight. He said that in sports, just like in the military, you are tought to follow your leaders. He said he would have followed Doug Dickey, even though he despised him, because he was a decisive leader. He said he wouldn't follow Mike Hamilton to the men's room. Speaks volumes, doesn't it?

FolxyWhite writes:

It's certainly a sad and pathetic day for the UT sports community. Bruce Pearl is probably irreplaceable. If he can be replaced, it may take 12 – 15 years and 3 – 4 coaches in the interim. Even if UT was looking at two years of NCAA punishment, I think they should have sucked it up, stuck with Bruce, and rode it out. Two years will seem like a flash by the time we get back to where we were – not just the competiveness of the team, but the whole aura of Bruce Pearl.

Bruce messed up, belatedly admitted it, and said he was sorry. That’s good enough for me. I think he would have been a better man for it. The cowards Cheek and Hamilton didn’t have the guts to stick by their man. Skunks!

As I remember, Jimmy Cheek is one of the Gore lovers instrumental in bestowing an honorary doctorate degree on that master shyster Algore. Looks like Jimmy is continuing his undertaking of tarnishing the name of the University of Tennessee. Maybe Jimmy can bestow an honorary doctorate of basketball on his buddy Al and make him the new coach. I’m sure Jimmy’s good friend honest Al would always be above reproach in his representation of the University.

mdvol writes:

I pity the fool who replaces Pearl. It will be similar to Kesling replacing John Ward.

SAILRAY2U writes:

Just a sad day for U.T. and our Athletic program. When you have a Administrator running a Athletic program, its like having a Blind Man directing Traffic. Way to go Hamilton.

Bufforange00 writes:

The system sets these coaches up for failure. They demand you win with integrity, then make it impossible through selective enforcement. Calipari is calling his recruits, but is smart enough to not get caught.

orchidvol writes:

Pearl is and always will be a Tennessee legend. There won't ever be anyone like him again. Honestly, I can't see myself ever watching another Tennessee basketball game again. It is truly a sad day for any Tennessee fan.

volnut64 writes:

Go to Hades Hamilton! I know Bruce messed up but you brought him in, and Kiffin too! Seems like the baseball program had some problems too if I recall! I never attended a basketball until Bruce, and now I guess I'm thru with it all! Jimmy Cheek is an arse for keeping you around you pompus idiot!

jack_2222#231746 writes:

Pearl did so many good things for UT and for Knoxville. So much more than coach a basketball team. Just makes me sick.

Hamilton must go. Now.

TNVol71 writes:

If you want to know what UT basketball games will look like next year, take a look at LSU. They brought in Trent Johnson, an average coach at best, and struggled to have any relevance at all this season. When Coach Pearl came to UT, Buzz Peterson had recruited some good players in Chris Lofton and Dane Bradshaw. CBP was able to take them to another level. If Harris and Hopson stay, the next coach will have a chance only if he can recruit similar players to complement these 2. Otherwise we will move to the bottom of the East in a similar manner to LSU.

When asked about the Bruse Pearl firing in a postgame interview of the Lady Vols game Monday night, Coach Summitt said that Coach Pearl was a dear friend and had done a lot for UT's men's basketball. That is the way a lot of us feel--that we have lost not only a great coach but also a person who was active in the community and a very good friend. Best of luck, Coach Pearl. You will be missed. GBO!

FatherVol writes:

in response to spencer1989#206886:

I hope this sick feeling goes away in the immediate future.....But right now my heart and gut is telling me to not contribute a single dollar in support to UT in any fashion. Maybe if there are some other changes in personnel made to go with this, then maybe this feeling will go away or change. But right now, this is a sick feeling that is rotting me inside.

I have already written to the Alumni Association and the University Administration telling them that I will not contribute anything until Hamiliton is replaced by someone who knows how to run an athletic department.

MidTennVol writes:

Thanks, Adams. Nice piece. I have never felt so ashamed to be a Tennessee basketball fan, which is why I am now a former Tennessee basketball fan.

After 40 years, I am done with the University of Tennessee athletic department.

punkin writes:

in response to MidTennVol:

Thanks, Adams. Nice piece. I have never felt so ashamed to be a Tennessee basketball fan, which is why I am now a former Tennessee basketball fan.

After 40 years, I am done with the University of Tennessee athletic department.

Bye, can I have your tickets?

VOLS_SEC_RULES writes:

Fire Hamilton.

rheavol1 writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

146-61 without any NBA caliber players, first time ranked #1, winning record vs ranked teams, 6 straight years in the tourney, & many other things. He was willing to accept that he was playing on Summitts Court.

Bruce Pearl can never be replaced!

Thats Tennessee vols court. thank you.

easleychuck writes:

Coach Pearl brought joy to the men's basketball experience. He made the men's team matter.

He was not the best x's and o's guy. He was not the best recruiter. He was not without faults-- personal or professional. He just seemed to know how to bring people together. On the important things he seemed to usually make the right calls. He even made a heated rival's coach-- Billy D. more human to us through their charitible endeavors.

Coach had an ego and could be arrogant but what coach is not. At the end of the day, he lost his job because he did what we tell our kids is the worst thing that one can do. He did not tell the truth. By covering up a relatively minor violation by, at first, lying about it, he imploded the program.

To blame Mike Hamilton and other UT folks is wrong. For whatever reason, the commissioner of the SEC took it upon himself to be judge and jury on Pearl before the case was ever ruled on by the NCAA. He may have thought he was doing the right thing but as far as I can tell he has never done this to any other school or player. Why he chose to step in here when other issues have occurred in the conference is a question that we may never know the answer to.

It also appears from reports circulating, that he impressed on UT officials over the course of the SEC tourney weekend that it would be in UT's best interests if Pearl was no longerd the coach at UT.

My only question is this: are UT, the Knoxville community, and college basketball better off without Bruce Pearl? I am torn on this issue. I will miss this Coach. I do not miss Coach Fulmer even after all the UT football program has endured the past 2 years. But Coach Pearl has a special quality about him. He is already missed. It is almost like someone in the family has died.

budd#207344 writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor on the record many many times as a Pearl supporter and too sick..but its time to move on. Witch Doctor say plenty of people blaming alot of people but Pearl did do this to himself. Witch Doctor wish Pearl best but Witch Doctor still about the living so we move on and support the next guy cause it wasnt him that caused this..it was Bruce.
Go Vols.
Bones never lie.

Thanks for introducing sanity into this discussion. Bones never lie

volinuptonky writes:

I will miss BP but he has no one to blame but himself. If I did what he did I would be fired also. I wish he could have stayed but we have not found out all the details yet. I bet the NCAA said it is going to be bad but it will be real bad if you keep him. The moral of the story is that we should always tell the truth no matter the consequences. I still say he did nothing morally wrong and having someone to your house for dinner is not wrong nor does it give you an unfair advantage. Pat Summitt for AD and men's basketball coach.

EMBuckles writes:

in response to sstirrer:

The University has lacked qualified and admirable administration since Ed Bowling and Joe Johnson. It has lacked great administration since Andy Holt. (Personally, I think the same applies to the leadership of our country. When did we last have a great leader and Statesman as a President, but that's another story.)
WWAD? What would Andy do? He would have said "Coach Pearl has made some mistakes, just as we all have, and we have dealt with them in an appropriate manner. We welcome the good folks at the NCAA to review our decisions," and gone on about his business of running a great school. He would not have flinched over what the NCAA MIGHT do in sanctions.
One of my golfing group, a West Point grad, Special Ops Officer, and rugby player, summed it up well earlier tonight. He said that in sports, just like in the military, you are tought to follow your leaders. He said he would have followed Doug Dickey, even though he despised him, because he was a decisive leader. He said he wouldn't follow Mike Hamilton to the men's room. Speaks volumes, doesn't it?

I like the above post, yet, even so, from what I am reading, on the Go Vols forums and elsewhere, I am getting a strong impression that ol' Mike may not be the one calling the shots in the Athletics Department, that someone higher up may be running it, making the big decisions, and leaving Hamilton to take the flack. Speaking of leadership, I have seen that done elsewhere and it might be done at UT as well. As for anger, appropriately directed, instead of being ticked off with Mike Hamilton, I am ticked off with the NCAA. Had Bruce Pearl been "pimping cheerleaders" to potential recruits (which I have heard has been done at one SEC university in years past, I'll leave the reader to guess which one ;>), or giving drugs/alcohol to them or "pay for play" to parents or athletes, I could have understood and supported them seeking to stop and punish such things. But, insofar as I am aware, apparently Bruce Pearl ("GASP") gave potential recruits some barbecue and ("SAY IT AIN'T SO, BRUCE") made some phone calls to potential recruits ("HORRORS")! REALLY?! THAT is what he got "fired" for doing?! UNBELIEVABLE! If people want to express their outrage about UT losing Bruce Pearl as Head Men's Basketball Coach, I would suggest contacting the NCAA and demanding that they start going after violations that really matter and STOP harrassing coaches and athletics departments for things, which should be normal and acceptable instead of getting people fired, like making phone calls to recruits and giving them barbecue! It is starting to seem to me that what's needed is a new, much more reasonable athletics governing organization, in my humble opinion, as the saying goes. And I don't know about you all but I ain't following anybody into the men's room, ha, ha! ;>

Pullingguard writes:

It happens so often, People who are successful and held aloft by the masses start thinking they are above the rules of the game or life. Thats what happened to Bruce Pearl. He was held above all others by the UT faithful, a do gooder, with no tarnish and a savior for ever planted on the hill. He believed it so much he lied, and continue to trash the rules of life in the basketball world, and it caused him to fall from the perch, and the faithful masses continue to hold out the olive branch of he was better than the violations he committed. Maybe so, but he is gone, so lets embrace the future instead of degrading it.

chattbud writes:

Are we really going blow with the nation opinion winds & fire a our winner in Pearl? His good works & deeds in Knoxville alone are worthy of a second chance as in his cancer charity. I’m hanging in with Pearl. (The two recruits in question): Pearl had (Craft & Shelby) verbal commitments to Tennessee. Both were TOP 25 (Rivals) talent. Are the ESPN’ Dukey’s Jay Bias, TFP Mark Wiedmer & David Climer going to run UT? If so their bias’s & opinions are not in UT’s interest, they think Tennessee is not to recruit upper crust basketball talent, it’s a football school in the SEC. Top Basketball talent goes to the ACC, Big Ten, East Big 12 & MEMPHIS. Kansas & Ohio (State) turned Tennessee in for too many phone calls on wrong days & feeding them BQ @ Pearls home on their visit to a UT football game. Both recruits are likely riding around in Kansas & Ohio State in new SUV’s! for heaven sakes. Both schools say Pearl’s a Cheater!, more of the Big 12, Big Ten & ESPN looking down their noses at UT & keeping a little school town in the Appalachian mountains in its place. ESPN says Kentucky is the only SEC school aloud to recruit TOP basketball talent. They want Tennessee back in the NIT & out of their NCAA Basketball tournament. The Big East got 11-teams in the dance. The SEC got 5 & lucky to get that. Alabama the West winner, got the shaft & the NIT. Pearl was a foul shot away from the FINAL Four last year. Pearl’s six years in a row to the NCAA never before done @ Tenn. We Won OUR first NIT tournament this year in New York kicked Villanova but! In 80-years of UT basketball our first NIT Win. If we turn on Pearl & fire him for trying to Recruit top talent to our UT & WIN? We deserve to be called LosserVillie! We need to bull dose Thomson Boling Area after we fire him. Because Pearl filled it. Before him,… we hung Curtains around the upper deck. Pearl Hung NCAA banners! Six in a row!

Goooooo Big Orange fire Hamilton & the Chancellor! not Pearl!

UTKin1992 writes:

UT basketball won't be the same, not in our lifetime anyway.

Whoever ends up following Bruce is in for a rough ride: no talent, bitter fans and years of losing records...have fun!

nwcs writes:

In the end Pearl did this to himself. The only reason why there's such wailing and moaning is because Pearl is likable and won. Second chances are good and I think he got one when he wasn't fired immediately. Having 2+ violations since his press conference last fall shows he blew his second chance, too.

I hate it for the bb team and I remember well the days of Don DeVoe and Wade Houston. But I'd rather Tennessee be known for doing it the right way than winning at all cost.

I think some people so identify with the team they actually think they're players/coaches by extension. Get a grip! Put this same situation in any other context and everyone would have wondered why it took so long.

rockytop33 writes:

Thank you coach Pearl for bringing Tennessee basketball from the dead. We will greatly miss you. You will coach again somewhere someday and I will support that school no matter who it is sign me up for a tee-shirt and hat now. I will not spend one dime on UT until the weasel Hamilton is FIRED and then I will have to think about it. Hey Mike enjoy your 8,000 - 12,000 in the arena next season if you are lucky you idoit.

cloudodust writes:

The game is played outside the lines in so many ways. Every infraction today is deemed Criminal Intent. Is CBP alone playing the game outside the lines..? Double dog diddly no but he got busted. Others will get busted and other programs will pay the price. I'm tired of all the negative attention cast upon Tennessee. Let's get rid of the ringleader and get this horse plowing a straight line. Fire Hamilton...

JWilly writes:

M. Ham.has presided over the 2 biggest disasters in UT athletic history. In both cases he was, at some point, guilty of some incredible bad judgment/decision making. If the powers that be at UT have one grain of good sense, they will send MH packing. This guy is damaged goods.

arkyvol writes:

from the vantage out here in enemy territory, you can read the predictable comments of the rustic ignoramuses about how pearl was al capone reincarnate. but down deep, and there are more than a few who admit it, most concede that they are relieved that they don't have to play his teams anymore.

murrayvol writes:

Top notch article John.

Wish it could've turned out better but that's the way life is sometimes.

jctwindad writes:

in response to roloyo:

TBA, will sound like an empty warehouse next year. Smart move Hammy. If you want to stop the water, you go to the head of the stream, you POS

Fans like you are a dime a dozen. Did you stop going to Neyland Stadium because they changed coaches. The REAL TENNESSEE FANS WHO BLEED ORANGE will continue to support the Vols, and be in TBA next year, irregardless of who the coach is, who the players are, or how many games they win. This thing will work out over the long run. Do me a favor, don't sit on the sidelines for the next 2 or 3 years, and then suddenly show up again somewhere down the road when things improve. We can do without fans like you.

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