Fans react to Tennessee's firing of coach Bruce Pearl
Vol Hoops 2010-2011: Out-Dribbled by Distraction and Disappointment
At some point a couple of years into the Bruce Pearl Revival, I began to ponder the column I would write the day he became Tennessee's ex-basketball coach.
I never thought he would retire here. Surely, his raging success would ultimately lead him elsewhere.
At which time Tennessee fans would moan that their basketball program was cursed and proclaim nobody ever again could accomplish what Pearl did here.
To which I would reply: Yes, they can.
And that's what I'm saying today - only with less conviction than I'd envisioned.
The original argument was that Pearl isn't the only guy who can win big at Tennessee and put butts in the seats.
He merely showed the way. He provided the blueprint to any subsequent candidate that it could be done.
He dispelled the negativity. He showed that Thompson-Boling Arena can be a crackling environment, just like Neyland Stadium. He illustrated that UT's men do not necessarily have to play second fiddle all winter to the consistent excellence of the Lady Vols.
He proved that if UT made the right hire, men's basketball was not doomed to mediocrity.
But it's ludicrous to believe Bruce Pearl is the only coach in America who could put or keep the Vols on the map.
His greatest gift - according to the original argument - was that he made the UT job so much more attractive than it was when he got here.
Thus, hiring the next Bruce Pearl wouldn't be such a shot in the dark. Established candidates would want to come to Knoxville.
Well, I was wrong about the terms of his becoming the ex-Tennessee coach.
And because of those terms, the job isn't nearly as attractive as it was last March when the Vols were soaring to unprecedented heights in St. Louis.
In short, Bill Self or Thad Matta aren't going to be taking Mike Hamilton's calls.
UT basketball is facing a tough couple of years. And it would have been facing a tough couple of years even if the administration had elected to keep Pearl and fight through the coming NCAA sanctions his actions generated.
It's understandable that UT fans are disillusioned. They sat through a lot of bad and mediocre basketball before Pearl finally got it right.
It's understandable that UT fans are angry and that more than a few are vowing never to set foot in Thompson-Boling Arena again.
But that doesn't mean the right hire can't bring back the good times - eventually.
Hamilton, the athletic director who hired Pearl six years ago, has somewhat damaged goods to sell this time.
Furthermore, Tennessee is jumping into the pool with several attractive jobs open: Oklahoma, Arkansas, N.C. State and Georgia Tech.
Tennessee, though, has deep pockets and which direction it decides to point them will be interesting.
A veteran (Minnesota's Tubby Smith or Belmont's Rick Byrd?) could offer stability at what would be their final career move.
UT could try to raid an SEC neighbor of an up-and-coming coach (Alabama's Anthony Grant or Georgia's Mark Fox?)
It could send feelers to an established guy in the prime of his career (Jay Wright, Lorenzo Romar, Mark Turgeon?) just to test the waters.
More than likely, it will look to the mid-major ranks for the next rising star. The NCAA Sweet 16 bracket happens to offer several at the moment.
Somewhere out there is a talented guy who gets it, who can connect on and off the court. Tennessee can be a winner again and have fun doing it.
Bruce Pearl proved it.