Mike Strange: Bruce Pearl made UT a good job

Mike Strange

Fans react to Tennessee's firing of coach Bruce Pearl

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

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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.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange

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Comments » 55

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say we have the facilities/ and TBA is turned into one of the best place in college sports. we'll be ok
Bones never lie.

BillVol writes:

UT job has always been a good job. Shame on you, Mike.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor add* Pearl proved you CAN win at Tennessee.
Bones never lie.

BrucePearlandDerekDooley writes:

Sorry Mike, I don't see any coach wanting this job. The administration here has proven they DO NOT back up their coaches during the hard times. No mistakes, that's UT to them.

tennezz writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say we have the facilities/ and TBA is turned into one of the best place in college sports. we'll be ok
Bones never lie.

I truely hope your right my friend...I just don`t see it right now!

jerseydevilvol writes:

The question that keeps popping up in my head is What coach will want to come to UT knowing that Mike Hamilton can't be trusted? If UT wants to land a quality coach then the AD has to go IMO.

AlphaMan writes:

Whoever UT picks will have a hard time gaining the level of acceptance Pearl had.

We need someone who can "wow" the fan base and the athletes. Whoever it is, they better be able to bring a lot of energy to the table or the stands will go empty.

The best guy may be that kid from Butler, but I doubt our chances.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Nice article Mike! A little perspective is always needed to lighten the mood. If it is true that another violation happened THIS month, then that is a game-changer! I believe that another top coach can come in and win here! But, now that person will have to rebuild the program pretty much from the bottom up! Scotty and Harris are gone and probably the 2 recruits! More rough times ahead! Go VOLS!

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

what a bunch of cr@p.

kiss the ncaa as GONE for 10 years or more.

kiss the crowds at TBA as GONE.

and,

Mike Hamilton,

KISS MY A##.

arkyvol writes:

i agree. b.p. made the tennessee job a great one, something that had never been in my 67 years. any bets on how long its gonna stay one?

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

BTW,

next year should be a doozy as teams rack up 70 point wins over a team full of nothing.

I am SO PISSED with this right now. YOU dumb-idiots cheer all you wish...I almost with Bruce had never come here, it is maybe worse to know what you will be missing.

Well, time to lick UK's a## again, vol fans.

dammit.

12Hours writes:

in response to jerseydevilvol:

The question that keeps popping up in my head is What coach will want to come to UT knowing that Mike Hamilton can't be trusted? If UT wants to land a quality coach then the AD has to go IMO.

Hamilton can be trusted. He was standing by Bruce when most in the national spotlight said he should be fired.
It was Pearl who could not be trusted. He just couldn't walk that straight line and follow the rules.
Pearl let Hamilton down. He also let fans, players and recruits down.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

oh, and Mike, though I usually like your column...

this is nonsense. any coach would be an idiot to work for hamilotn. period.

FWBVol writes:

Has anyone else noticed how it is fairly common for football power schools to hire offensive or defensive coordinators that have never been a head coach to run the program, but it isn't the case with basketball?

Maybe it's the fact that there are only so about 130 BCS level football jobs and something like 300 basketball jobs that qualify as Division I. Maybe that's why coaches make the move through the ranks of DI assistant to mid-major head coach to major head coach.

Maybe UT should look at the assistants that are being considered for mid-major jobs and go after one of them. The only thing is the last time UT hired a career assistant coach that coach was Wade Houston and we all know what happened with that.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to arkyvol:

i agree. b.p. made the tennessee job a great one, something that had never been in my 67 years. any bets on how long its gonna stay one?

it died today, arky, it died today.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to AlphaMan:

Whoever UT picks will have a hard time gaining the level of acceptance Pearl had.

We need someone who can "wow" the fan base and the athletes. Whoever it is, they better be able to bring a lot of energy to the table or the stands will go empty.

The best guy may be that kid from Butler, but I doubt our chances.

exactly. just like lichtliter was the 'perfect' guy for Iowa...until they ran him out.

I warned you guys:

Fire Bruce, and we go the way of Iowa. We will muddle through 5 or 6 coaches, won't win squat, will be back to woulda coulda shoulda buzz ball.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to 12Hours:

Hamilton can be trusted. He was standing by Bruce when most in the national spotlight said he should be fired.
It was Pearl who could not be trusted. He just couldn't walk that straight line and follow the rules.
Pearl let Hamilton down. He also let fans, players and recruits down.

yeah what the hell ever. hire a full-time baby-sitter and make him toe the line or bust his balls.

nope. instead, we return to being a flat-a## basketball nothing, as always.

but, hey, we will have our 'integrity' in our 10-20 seasons....

BTW, did Bruce bribe kids, or pay them? Just curious on that.

esarmstrong#231516 writes:

in response to 12Hours:

Hamilton can be trusted. He was standing by Bruce when most in the national spotlight said he should be fired.
It was Pearl who could not be trusted. He just couldn't walk that straight line and follow the rules.
Pearl let Hamilton down. He also let fans, players and recruits down.

Right on.

Word is now leaking out that Bruce committed an NCAA infraction this month (and no it wasn't the 30 point loss to Michigan). Specifics are working their way out now, but it is believed he may have been off campus recruiting. If that is true, then Bruce had to go. He just didn't get it.

Anyway, we will see what develops in the days to come.

jerseydevilvol writes:

in response to 12Hours:

Hamilton can be trusted. He was standing by Bruce when most in the national spotlight said he should be fired.
It was Pearl who could not be trusted. He just couldn't walk that straight line and follow the rules.
Pearl let Hamilton down. He also let fans, players and recruits down.

I understand that. Pearl was not in the right for what he did. However why not fire him when they had the chance to months ago. Can anyone honestly name one AD that would of went on a radio station 2 days before the tournament and say what Hamilton said? Pretty much say that his basketball program wasn't going to accomplish anything in the tournament. Basically say that Pearl is gone 2 days before his team plays in the dance. I just don't think any Ad from any other college program would of done that. If I were a coach which im not but if I were that would be a huge red flag to me.

Pullingguard writes:

Bruce Pearls situation is smiliar to the guy who gets whacked while Jay walking, don't blame the driver, blame the walker and in this instance you have Pearl Walking and Hamilton driving. Who committed all the infractions, was it Pearl or Hamilton.. I think it was Pearl..

FWBVol writes:

in response to dead_vol_foul:

yeah what the hell ever. hire a full-time baby-sitter and make him toe the line or bust his balls.

nope. instead, we return to being a flat-a## basketball nothing, as always.

but, hey, we will have our 'integrity' in our 10-20 seasons....

BTW, did Bruce bribe kids, or pay them? Just curious on that.

A grown man shouldn't need a baby sitter. He is supposed to be setting an example to the student-athletes. What kind of message does it send to the guys on the team when the coach is breaking the rules?

I can hear some player now if Pearl hadn't been fired.

"Yeah coach, I know I you told me not to do it again, but Mike Hamilton told you to be careful and you continued to break the rules. You can cut me some slack because I'm averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds a game."

It doesn't matter whether Pearl bribed kids or paid them, he broke the rules after being put on notice for lying about breaking the rules. He even tried to get parents of recruits to lie for him.

Every coach committs secondary violations, but when a coach lies about a secondary violation I become concerned that there's more to it than meets the eye.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to FWBVol:

A grown man shouldn't need a baby sitter. He is supposed to be setting an example to the student-athletes. What kind of message does it send to the guys on the team when the coach is breaking the rules?

I can hear some player now if Pearl hadn't been fired.

"Yeah coach, I know I you told me not to do it again, but Mike Hamilton told you to be careful and you continued to break the rules. You can cut me some slack because I'm averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds a game."

It doesn't matter whether Pearl bribed kids or paid them, he broke the rules after being put on notice for lying about breaking the rules. He even tried to get parents of recruits to lie for him.

Every coach committs secondary violations, but when a coach lies about a secondary violation I become concerned that there's more to it than meets the eye.

great.

enjoy the 10 years of mediocrity coming.

what doesn't matter to you matters to me.

but, in the end, you win. we go back to trash heap basketball.

zippety do and f_ing dah.

NYvolFan writes:

Hamilton needs to be GONE within days....UT Athletic Administration as ZERO credibility until he is GONE...Pay Earnie Grunfeld whatever he wants to take over...he hired Pearl afterall.

NYvolFan writes:

At this point it appears Jimmy Cheek and Hamilton are BOTH Liars too while Bruce Pearl takes all the heat. This UT Athletic Administration is a total, absolute, overpaid JOKE. The NEW President of UT needs to dive in quickly and purge our beloved University of these lying, betraying fools! Let's get to the bottom of this clear scandal, and hold goofball liars responsible. ALL of them.

timw10 writes:

UT doesnt and never did deserve Bruce Pearl. We've become so self-righteous we believe that we are perfect and noone can make mistakes. More than wins, Bruce touched kids lives, filled the arena, never once pressed UT for money and overall is a class act. Shame on UT and Shame on you fans that believe we should not have stood by him. I just hope all of your glass houses come tumbling down. It will all begin next November when TBA becomes the ghost arena it used to be. I am done and will not renew my 12 season tickets and challenge everyone else to do the same.

NYvolFan writes:

The more I think about this, this is a scandal beyond Bruce. Under the Open records Act, I want to see what bruce agreed to to gain his "buy-out". He was owed NOTHING, though I feel he deserved it. Yet, I'll will guarantee that the wording of his "buy-out" was done by attorneys that are "protecting" Cheek and Hamilton for their scandalous roles. The NEW President of UT should fire Cheek and Hamilton for their clear demeaning of the integrity of the University of Tennessee!

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

What we should look forward to:

1993 SEC Tournament: Uk over Tennessee (QF) 101-40

Cannot F-ing wait.

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/basket...

http://www.utsports.com/sports/m-bask...

http://www.wate.com/Global/story.asp?...

http://www.wate.com/Global/story.asp?...

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to timw10:

UT doesnt and never did deserve Bruce Pearl. We've become so self-righteous we believe that we are perfect and noone can make mistakes. More than wins, Bruce touched kids lives, filled the arena, never once pressed UT for money and overall is a class act. Shame on UT and Shame on you fans that believe we should not have stood by him. I just hope all of your glass houses come tumbling down. It will all begin next November when TBA becomes the ghost arena it used to be. I am done and will not renew my 12 season tickets and challenge everyone else to do the same.

actually, he did pres UT for bucks...but my deal is this: he is paid to win ballgames and put butts in the seats.

If he's not paying players, then there has to be a way to make him toe the line in a more acceptable way. Integrity?? Great. Except it is not what is happening in bigtime college sports.

Just curious: how many kids have been lied to by coaches?? Try every frigging one of them. But, hey, that is just the kids, who cares.

I do like your point, though. we are very self-righteous in our criticisms, are we not.

So, sham integrity and huge losses it is.

fratricide08 writes:

There is simply no replacing Pearl. It's not about just winning. Pearl brought enthusiasm and changed the environment on the UT campus. He brought a sense of collegiality that was sorely lacking. He also brought vibrancy and fun. All the things that college sports are about.

That is why his firing is beyond all understanding. The loss to UT is a whole lot bigger than just the men's basketball team.

volnsc writes:

Mike, you misinformed idiot. Bruce proved HE could revive UT BB, HE could win at UT, HE could motivate the players and fans, HE could get the student body on board, HE could fill seats in TBA and take the black curtains down. No one wanted the football job and no one of any relevance will want the BB job. UT has a check book that couldn't buy a football coach and it won't buy a basketball coach. Fans will desert the BB program in droves. In a very few short years, Pat will be gone. But, UT will have integrity and Mike Hamilton and Chancellor Cheek. That's enough, right?

MidTennVol writes:

Wishful thinking, Strange. Whistling past the graveyard. We all know what's coming -- another 30-40 years of wandering in the wilderness until some future AD has the dumb luck to find another coach with qualities similar to Bruce Pearl.

Ernie Grunfeld brought us Bruce Pearl, not Mike Hamilton, whose job it was to make BP understand the severity of the situation and force him to conform.

I personally believe and have faith that BP did indeed conform; I await any evidence or revelation that he didn't.

What decent coach in his right mind would want to come anywhere near Tennessee after the show these clowns have put on for the past several months?

With one, dumb move, Hamilton and Cheek just turned TBO into a white elephant -- with very little orange in it for the next few decades.

They'll be tearing it down for a smaller venue before I die.

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to dead_vol_foul:

BTW,

next year should be a doozy as teams rack up 70 point wins over a team full of nothing.

I am SO PISSED with this right now. YOU dumb-idiots cheer all you wish...I almost with Bruce had never come here, it is maybe worse to know what you will be missing.

Well, time to lick UK's a## again, vol fans.

dammit.

even under BP, we were still licking Ky's rear as you say

shipperman#280095 writes:

Dead Vol Foul, you need to lay off the drinking and/or pills man

bigorangebolt writes:

Mike Hamiltoon must be terminated immediately! He is such a small town yuckster! He is in way over his head and it shows now! Fire Hamilton now!

Classof72 writes:

Because of Coach Pearl's unique cotributions, the best thing for the university to do would have been to retain him and go with him to the NCAA hearings. The sanctions should have been accepted with contrition and humility. There is no assurance the reduction in sanctions, if any, will be worth the loss of this coach.

A two-year suspension would have been worth it, if it meant rehabilitating Coach Pearl. The next two years are almost certainly a write-off, anyway. Jimmy Cheek just took a guilty plea in return for the death penalty for the program.

Now, we're "up the creek with Jimmy Cheek."

budd#207344 writes:

in response to 12Hours:

Hamilton can be trusted. He was standing by Bruce when most in the national spotlight said he should be fired.
It was Pearl who could not be trusted. He just couldn't walk that straight line and follow the rules.
Pearl let Hamilton down. He also let fans, players and recruits down.

12 hours, great comment. Mike Strange, great article. We are UT and we can win again with a man who can coach. Loved CBP. But the only one who got him fired was CBP. Not Cheeks or Hamilton. CBP. So sad because I think he did love this job.
dead vol foul after reading a lot of your posts here today, I can truly say you are the winner of the a**hole award for dumb as a rock

gillblog writes:

in response to dead_vol_foul:

oh, and Mike, though I usually like your column...

this is nonsense. any coach would be an idiot to work for hamilotn. period.

It goes beyond Hamilton, who appears to be nothing more than a puppet, a new coach would have to be willing to work for an administration and super-wealthy boosters who have shown themselves to be incompetent and untrustworthy. In addition, the school will almost certainly be facing scholarship reductions for the next couple of years. Not to mention that relative to surrounding SEC schools, UT is a difficult recruiting sell anyway.

Huttdawg100 writes:

in response to Classof72:

Because of Coach Pearl's unique cotributions, the best thing for the university to do would have been to retain him and go with him to the NCAA hearings. The sanctions should have been accepted with contrition and humility. There is no assurance the reduction in sanctions, if any, will be worth the loss of this coach.

A two-year suspension would have been worth it, if it meant rehabilitating Coach Pearl. The next two years are almost certainly a write-off, anyway. Jimmy Cheek just took a guilty plea in return for the death penalty for the program.

Now, we're "up the creek with Jimmy Cheek."

Honestly, it was a bad situation all around. Screwed if you do, screwed if you don't. If we kept Pearl, he'd have to at least sit for a year: precedent was set with the Dez Bryant ruling. I'm sure that with Pearl being 50 years old, the NCAA would have thrown the book at him and UT. Since we fired him, it will be very difficult to replace him. I dont think a lot of people will be lining up to take over the program not knowing how hard the NCAA will hit us.

I hope they make a serious run at the guy with Baylor because he has experience dealing with situations worse than ours. The guy took over a program after a guy was murdered, a few years later, they're in the final four.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to dead_vol_foul:

great.

enjoy the 10 years of mediocrity coming.

what doesn't matter to you matters to me.

but, in the end, you win. we go back to trash heap basketball.

zippety do and f_ing dah.

Witch Doctor say ease up on the happiness you feel. Geez gloom and doom. ITS BASKETBALL...wow. Witch Doctor say lets check back in a year and see just how horrible it is...Witch Doctor say first rule in life.
1.) Dont Panic
(Witch Doctor understand if you and he in plane wreck in ocean Witch Doctor have to drown you right away.

Bones never lie.

OwensboroVol writes:

in response to PrideOfTheSouthlandBanned:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hamilton threw the team under the bus on purpose. If they had made a run in the tournament it would have been a great deal harder to fire Bruce. Any future coach will see this and turn his back and run away from Tennessee as fast as possible.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to shipperman#280095:

Dead Vol Foul, you need to lay off the drinking and/or pills man

bite me, dude.

NOT in the mood for your garbage.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say ease up on the happiness you feel. Geez gloom and doom. ITS BASKETBALL...wow. Witch Doctor say lets check back in a year and see just how horrible it is...Witch Doctor say first rule in life.
1.) Dont Panic
(Witch Doctor understand if you and he in plane wreck in ocean Witch Doctor have to drown you right away.

Bones never lie.

bull, dude.

I make my living doing cause and effect analysis.

This isn't panic, this is anger at seeing this little drama play out EXACTLY is expected once it became known that Bruce's contract couldn't be agreed upon.

You don't like anger?? Tough. I don't like being a fan for 40 years, finally getting a coach who can win games, and seeing ALL responsible parties (bruce, hamilton, et al) just TOTALLY F this up.

Get it??

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

BTW:
the next shoe to drop will be current players like McRae and Golden leaving, much less Hopson and Harris.

Next year should be, uh, McBee, Woolridge, Maymon, Hall...ohh, baby, 1993 here we come!!!!

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to dead_vol_foul:

bull, dude.

I make my living doing cause and effect analysis.

This isn't panic, this is anger at seeing this little drama play out EXACTLY is expected once it became known that Bruce's contract couldn't be agreed upon.

You don't like anger?? Tough. I don't like being a fan for 40 years, finally getting a coach who can win games, and seeing ALL responsible parties (bruce, hamilton, et al) just TOTALLY F this up.

Get it??

Witch Doctor not one bit concerned about your anger. lol Witch Doctor say act is more of an offended Drama queen than fan...
Get it?
Bones never lie.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to dead_vol_foul:

BTW:
the next shoe to drop will be current players like McRae and Golden leaving, much less Hopson and Harris.

Next year should be, uh, McBee, Woolridge, Maymon, Hall...ohh, baby, 1993 here we come!!!!

Witch Doctor say crying never solves anything...man up geez.
Bones never lie.

jarvol writes:

Get a grip. Anthony Grant, Mark Fox, Jay Wright, Lorenzo Romar, Mark Turgeon, or any other coach in a power 6 conference isn't even going to consider UT with the exception of Stan Heath who was mediocre at Arkansas and has done nothing thus far at South Florida. UT will have to throw money at a mid-major coach and watch him struggle through probation, seasons with no NCAA tournaments, a half full arena (at best), and it will be the return of BuzzBall Part 2.

hill.patsy#1395826 writes:

in response to BigVolFaninSC:

Nice article Mike! A little perspective is always needed to lighten the mood. If it is true that another violation happened THIS month, then that is a game-changer! I believe that another top coach can come in and win here! But, now that person will have to rebuild the program pretty much from the bottom up! Scotty and Harris are gone and probably the 2 recruits! More rough times ahead! Go VOLS!

New violation my butt. Just lying cowardly and stupid AD's way out. Just trying to make peace for himself. Everyone should have read between lines last Wed. in his no count speech. I don't care anything about my 2 favorite sports since MIKE HAMILTON has smeared both programs with his presence.. Please God show these players and fans there is justice and exit him from the university.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say crying never solves anything...man up geez.
Bones never lie.

Bite me.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor add* Pearl proved you CAN win at Tennessee.
Bones never lie.

And win BIG.

murrayvol writes:

in response to dead_vol_foul:

what a bunch of cr@p.

kiss the ncaa as GONE for 10 years or more.

kiss the crowds at TBA as GONE.

and,

Mike Hamilton,

KISS MY A##.

That's dead wrong dead_vol.

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