John Adams: SEC basketball could use a Bruce Pearl or a 'Funny Sonny'

John Adams
University of Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl cheers on the the Lady Vols before the start of their game against No. 1 Duke on Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2007.

Photo by Saul Young

University of Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl cheers on the the Lady Vols before the start of their game against No. 1 Duke on Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2007.

DESTIN, Fla. — If I had made out the itinerary for this week’s SEC spring meetings, Sonny Smith and Bruce Pearl would have been conducting a coaching seminar.

And they wouldn’t have had to draw a single “x” or “o.”

So what if Smith is long retired from his coaching heyday in the 1980s at Auburn. Of if Pearl is beginning his third year in coaching purgatory after a spectacular run at Tennessee ended in his firing for lying about NCAA violations. They both have something to offer.

And they both remind us what the conference is missing.

Just because the SEC is primarily a football league — and its football has never been better — doesn’t mean basketball has to be a big bore. Both sports thrived in the early to mid-1980s when SEC football gave us Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson, when almost every SEC basketball team had a future NBA player and when coaches understood the value of being a court-side attraction.

Former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson’s sports coats had more personality than today’s average SEC basketball coach. Former Georgia coach Hugh Durham could convey more with a well timed double take or a raised eyebrow than most current coaches can in a 15-minute interview.

Former LSU coach Dale Brown’s news conferences upstaged games. And when Smith was coaching Auburn, he was even wittier than his best player, Charles Barkley.

Asked what’s missing from SEC basketball, Smith said, “The No. 1 thing would be the entertainment part of it, the coaches being able to be themselves instead of robotic.

“From the coaches’ standpoint, they just aren’t as entertaining as they possibly could be. I don’t know if they are as engaging with their fans as much as they should be.

“I could be wrong. But we’re talking about the perception here.”

Kentucky and Florida are exceptions to the perception. There’s nothing bland about winning, as the Wildcats have done under John Calipari, and the Gators have under Billy Donovan.

When you win the way they have, even “robotic” can be colorful. But Calipari and Donovan also are two of the most quotable coaches in the conference.

The rest of the SEC coaches could use a crash course on showmanship.

Pearl didn’t just revitalize Tennessee basketball by winning. He did so by realizing he was in the entertainment business.

The demeanor of so many current coaches suggests they’re in the mortuary business.

Pearl distinguished himself by painting his chest orange and baring it at a women’s basketball game. He could entertain by sweating.

“If Bruce had been coaching back in our day, he would have just been one of the boys,” Smith said. “People liked that we did (or said) those crazy things. Today, coaches are afraid to do that.”

So the entertainment is limited to the talent on the court, which isn’t what it used to be, and a prevailing style of play that produces 50-point scores with numbing regularity. The SEC was more entertaining in the early 1980s, even without a shot clock or 3-point line.

Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson was the best entertainment the conference had to offer last season.

Never mind if his eyes said, “I need medication.” Or if you always thought he was just one shot or taunt ahead of ejection. He stood out like Pearl in body paint.

And he made you watch. Who else in the SEC did?

I’m not recommending coaches go psycho. But if they can’t recruit more entertaining players, they could at least don a sports jacket worthy of a Hugh Durham double take.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 31

vut5686#1405392 writes:

Just more silly nonsense. Loud mouths and louder jackets (plus an obnoxious painted, fat, hairy chest) only plays well if one is winning. Mr. Adams, did you regularly applaud and talk postively of Coach Dooley's orange pants? Did not think so. Pearl gave you good copy but I do not recall you leading a stand-in protest to keep him around, when his lying lips talked his way out of town.

So, if you (Mr. Adams) want somthing more colorful to write about, cover the Globetrotters or Pro-in-the-cage-whatever they do. SEC basketball will do just fine without your PR advice.

thevoice writes:

Probably some truth to what Adams has written, however I don't see the SEC coaches being any different than those in other conferences.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

I concur with Mr. Adams..The SEC coaches' these days are sullen & boring. Donovan somewhat colorful, but much tamer than his mentor, RP. Martin, an example of GK, but not near as animated or tough on officials. Barbee, completely underwhelming and in over his head. Grant, another boring defensive minded coach, and the beat goes on in Vandy with an obtuse JA for a coach. Then we come to UK with the squid. The man has about as much coaching ability of a single A hsbb coach and strictly out-talents his competition. No charisma or charm, just echoes arrogance and poor sportsmanship. Speaking of obtuse JA's, Kennedy from Ole Miss comes to mind as well. Then we have MSU: Non-factor and will be gone before his name is remembered. LSU, coming off the heels of firing that Gargoyle looking coach, is boring and a horrible brand of bb to watch. A&M and Mizzou too early to gauge, but neither seem to be the showmen of SEC coaches' past..

1vavolfan writes:

Agree 100%. The only reason anyone paid any attention to Ole miss this year was Henderson. The games I enjoy most are against UK (Cal) and Vandy (Stallings) because their coaches are such jackarses.

tovolny writes:

Adams came up with a little bit of fun here. But, KNS puts any kind of news on the 247 jewel. So, if I want news, I go to Bleacher Report, or to other numerous sites that has more news than you can read in an hour. I don't know what the KNS pair of Jacks were thinking with going with a pay site. I usually know the recruiting news long before it is mentioned on 247. Does anybody actually like paying for old news?

lemme_axya_this writes:

I met Sonny Smith at Bennigan's in Johnson City in '89 or '90. He spoke highly of Charles Barkley and said he enjoyed coaching him. Chuck Person, not so much.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to lemme_axya_this:

I met Sonny Smith at Bennigan's in Johnson City in '89 or '90. He spoke highly of Charles Barkley and said he enjoyed coaching him. Chuck Person, not so much.

Bennigan's that's a watering hole I haven't thought of in decades..Fond memories.

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Bennigan's that's a watering hole I haven't thought of in decades..Fond memories.

I worked there while a student at ETSU. I remember one of the regular bar patrons brought in a sign that said "Go Johnny Go and Take Don Devoe". The Bucs had some good basketball teams back then.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I don't really watch the coahes. I watch the game. The game is all that matters really. Really.

Seriously I love the atmosphere of the gym on game day. 20Kplus fans screamin'. well sometimes they do.

rbwtn writes:

Good Article John couldn't agree with you more That's one of the reasons I'm sure I liked Pearl not only was he a Winner but an entertainer too. There's got to be someway we can keep him at TENN. Pearls don't come around that often.

BruisedOrange writes:

In the saturated marketplace of sports info-tainment it's a tougher world for print journalists. Sports talk radio hosts can fill an hour by opening their show making an indefensibly stupid remark, then sit back and answer phone calls from incredulous, irate, and aghast listeners the rest of the hour.

Print guys online can do something like that (gaining hits via the Comments section), but gaining and maintaining a reputation for insight, accuracy and inside-knowledge counts much more in their game. The radio guy can say anything, as long as he eventually admits, "I see your point, and I may have to reconsider mine." Then he closes the show bragging that he has "the smartest audience in all of radio"--though he's just duped them into filling his hour for him.

Unlike the TV boys, writers can't say "Roll the videotape..." and fill five minutes describing for everyone what everyone can plainly see for themselves.

Preachers have a week to prepare the next sermon. Comedians hone a routine over months and take it from town-to-town. Writers have to write something new, interesting, and informative EVERY day, for the same audience.

So maybe the truthier headline would be...

"John Adams: SEC basketball BEAT WRITERS could use a Bruce Pearl or a 'Funny Sonny'"

Honestly, I sympathize.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

In the saturated marketplace of sports info-tainment it's a tougher world for print journalists. Sports talk radio hosts can fill an hour by opening their show making an indefensibly stupid remark, then sit back and answer phone calls from incredulous, irate, and aghast listeners the rest of the hour.

Print guys online can do something like that (gaining hits via the Comments section), but gaining and maintaining a reputation for insight, accuracy and inside-knowledge counts much more in their game. The radio guy can say anything, as long as he eventually admits, "I see your point, and I may have to reconsider mine." Then he closes the show bragging that he has "the smartest audience in all of radio"--though he's just duped them into filling his hour for him.

Unlike the TV boys, writers can't say "Roll the videotape..." and fill five minutes describing for everyone what everyone can plainly see for themselves.

Preachers have a week to prepare the next sermon. Comedians hone a routine over months and take it from town-to-town. Writers have to write something new, interesting, and informative EVERY day, for the same audience.

So maybe the truthier headline would be...

"John Adams: SEC basketball BEAT WRITERS could use a Bruce Pearl or a 'Funny Sonny'"

Honestly, I sympathize.

To your last quote- They DID use them. And not in a very nice way. Of course us readers helped...you know, by reading it.lol

VictorKruger writes:

A major college coach has about 3 or 4 years to win or else he's gone, so I don't think coaches are willing to put forth the time and effort to endear themselves to the media and the general public as much as in the past. The NCAA is constantly breathing down their necks, and there's the constant battle of keeping 18-21 year-olds on the straight and narrow in their personal and academic endeavors. Even the slightest screw-up becomes public knowledge within minutes due to social media, so coaches need to run a cleaner program than in the past. Recruiting seems to be year-round, so there's really not much time left to be a "celebrity coach."

brod writes:

marshall henderson. the land shark.

BUBBANUTS48 writes:

in response to vut5686#1405392:

Just more silly nonsense. Loud mouths and louder jackets (plus an obnoxious painted, fat, hairy chest) only plays well if one is winning. Mr. Adams, did you regularly applaud and talk postively of Coach Dooley's orange pants? Did not think so. Pearl gave you good copy but I do not recall you leading a stand-in protest to keep him around, when his lying lips talked his way out of town.

So, if you (Mr. Adams) want somthing more colorful to write about, cover the Globetrotters or Pro-in-the-cage-whatever they do. SEC basketball will do just fine without your PR advice.

"AMEN"

hikerdude writes:

John has it right, and we have the most boring, robotic one of all.

tennlions writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Bennigan's that's a watering hole I haven't thought of in decades..Fond memories.

Ahhh...Bennigan's. I used to work at the one that was on Kingston Pike on the west side of Knoxville.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to hikerdude:

John has it right, and we have the most boring, robotic one of all.

So. You must be one of those "entertain me" kids. If I'm bored I won't do it. No matter how important it is.

Snapshot writes:

in response to vut5686#1405392:

Just more silly nonsense. Loud mouths and louder jackets (plus an obnoxious painted, fat, hairy chest) only plays well if one is winning. Mr. Adams, did you regularly applaud and talk postively of Coach Dooley's orange pants? Did not think so. Pearl gave you good copy but I do not recall you leading a stand-in protest to keep him around, when his lying lips talked his way out of town.

So, if you (Mr. Adams) want somthing more colorful to write about, cover the Globetrotters or Pro-in-the-cage-whatever they do. SEC basketball will do just fine without your PR advice.

If it is such silly nonsense then why do you even bother reading his articles?

No need to continue hating on Bruce Pearl, he is gone, hope you are happy.

bUTch_please writes:

95 days.

SevenT writes:

It seems that acting like a clown and coaching at UT is a long standing tradition. I heard from some old timers that the circus clown Coach Ray Mears used to have a bunch of orange clad male cheerleaders ride around the basketball court on unicycles for halftime entertainments.

Too bad the UT teams are not very entertaining so they wouldn't need to resort to such clown foolishness.

creekroad writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

In the saturated marketplace of sports info-tainment it's a tougher world for print journalists. Sports talk radio hosts can fill an hour by opening their show making an indefensibly stupid remark, then sit back and answer phone calls from incredulous, irate, and aghast listeners the rest of the hour.

Print guys online can do something like that (gaining hits via the Comments section), but gaining and maintaining a reputation for insight, accuracy and inside-knowledge counts much more in their game. The radio guy can say anything, as long as he eventually admits, "I see your point, and I may have to reconsider mine." Then he closes the show bragging that he has "the smartest audience in all of radio"--though he's just duped them into filling his hour for him.

Unlike the TV boys, writers can't say "Roll the videotape..." and fill five minutes describing for everyone what everyone can plainly see for themselves.

Preachers have a week to prepare the next sermon. Comedians hone a routine over months and take it from town-to-town. Writers have to write something new, interesting, and informative EVERY day, for the same audience.

So maybe the truthier headline would be...

"John Adams: SEC basketball BEAT WRITERS could use a Bruce Pearl or a 'Funny Sonny'"

Honestly, I sympathize.

Totally Agree. This article says much more about what makes Mr. Adams tick than it says about SEC basketball's current status.

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to SevenT:

It seems that acting like a clown and coaching at UT is a long standing tradition. I heard from some old timers that the circus clown Coach Ray Mears used to have a bunch of orange clad male cheerleaders ride around the basketball court on unicycles for halftime entertainments.

Too bad the UT teams are not very entertaining so they wouldn't need to resort to such clown foolishness.

I found 88-58 at TBA and 37-17 at Neyland Stadium very entertaining. I can see why you wouldn't though.

FanNotSheep writes:

It wasn't Pearl's chest painting that made me love his time here. It was the way he coached and the style of basketball the Lofton-Jujuan Smith-Dane Bradshaw teams played. The other team couldn't inbounds the ball half the time and the 30-foot bombs and high flying dunks gave TBA the nation's best atmosphere when KY and FLA came to town. The personality mattered when it came to getting the students involved. The fans who suffered through decades of incompetent coaching knew a great basketball coach when we had one. Obviously there are haters who didn't, but I wonder how many of those are pulling for the Vols to lose.

vut5686#1405392 writes:

in response to Snapshot:

If it is such silly nonsense then why do you even bother reading his articles?

No need to continue hating on Bruce Pearl, he is gone, hope you are happy.

Fair observation. My response is that it is like "Lucy and the football." I keep reading and keep hoping for something better. The ball seems to always get jerked back.

Did not hate Pearl. Admired his success. He disappointed me when his lying lips did usher him out of town. My point was, however, that Adams, who now professes to have admired the Pearl show so much, did not rise up to protest his being asked to leave. Actually, a sympathy vote for Bruce.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Bennigan's that's a watering hole I haven't thought of in decades..Fond memories.

Small world! I've been in that place a few times myself. Good times indeed!

johnlg00 writes:

I think the poster above was onto something when he talked about how the "win now at any cost" fan attitude makes coaches stay a bit more buttoned-down than they used to be. It is great to crack jokes and stuff when your team is winning. For that matter, it used to be funny for coaches to joke about how bad their teams were--anybody remember Abe Lemmons (I think that was his name) who was a long-time coach in the Oklahoma City area? He was a certified hoot going on about how his "little Indians" at one school couldn't beat anybody.

These days, coaches don't stick around if they don't win, sooner rather than later, at every level. If they are consummate showmen who don't win enough, they are gone just about as fast as the mortician types. So yeah, I can see that the profession doesn't cut showmen much slack these days. Not only that, but the 24/7/365 media is ever ready to pounce on any too lightly-considered, throwaway lines. Better to give the appearance that you think about nothing but winning and getting better and holding players' feet to the fire. And stick to your own message, no matter what the subject is. More's the pity.

Colliervol writes:

in response to SevenT:

It seems that acting like a clown and coaching at UT is a long standing tradition. I heard from some old timers that the circus clown Coach Ray Mears used to have a bunch of orange clad male cheerleaders ride around the basketball court on unicycles for halftime entertainments.

Too bad the UT teams are not very entertaining so they wouldn't need to resort to such clown foolishness.

Just as cheating is a longstanding tradition in Lexington. And it will continue as long as the Smarmy One is your coach. UK fans have become so used to it that they are blind to it, I guess. Sad situation for a program with such a storied (albeit suspect) history.

OwensboroVol writes:

The heck with the SEC, Tennessee NEEDS BRUCE PEARL back as head Basketball Coach. It will never happen because we have Florida's Number 1 Booster, Jimmy Cheek, but I have been and will always be a Bruce Pearl Man. He is without any doubt and by a half a mile the Best Coach this University has ever had in its Basketball Program. Coach Martin doesn't belong in the gym with Coach Pearl. If Dave Hart has any sense at all, he will go to Pearl and beg him to come back as Head Coach.

Snapshot writes:

in response to vut5686#1405392:

Fair observation. My response is that it is like "Lucy and the football." I keep reading and keep hoping for something better. The ball seems to always get jerked back.

Did not hate Pearl. Admired his success. He disappointed me when his lying lips did usher him out of town. My point was, however, that Adams, who now professes to have admired the Pearl show so much, did not rise up to protest his being asked to leave. Actually, a sympathy vote for Bruce.

Point taken. If we had an AD with a backbone at that time, Pearl could still be the coach.

rbwtn writes:

A Scared AD at the time fired one of the Best basketball coaches in the Country and a perfect fit for UT. We should have suspended him until all of this blew over but thinking about yourself and Not U.0f T. The AD (and we all know who he was) Blew It. Just like he did in Football Period. I don't look forward to the day when we see Pearl coaching at another school and routes Tennessee. Sorry it's going to happen. He's truly a catch for any school.

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