Mike Strange, a columnist at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, wrote a marvelous defense of cornered University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl yesterday after Pearl’s team lost to Michigan by 30 points in the NCAA Tournament. He insists Pearl remains a hero to the fan base (and I can attest the truth in that in at least one case).
That game will have no bearing on whether Pearl is kept at UT because of extenuating circumstances brought on by the athletic director, a truly unpopular figure these days (a poll at the Sentinel found Pearl with 91 percent support vs. 8 percent for the AD).
Pearl is the best and most popular basketball coach in UT history because of a number of accomplishments, listed by Strange:
- The first SEC championship since 1967 and the school's first No. 1 ranking, both in 2008;
- The school-record six straight NCAA tournament bids, the longest active streak in the conference;
- UT's home crowds at UT's cavernous and previously near-empty arena jumped 5,504 per game in Pearl's first year and has been in the Top 5 nationally ever since (the Vols sell out for games against teams like Arkansas, unheard of previously);
- Tennessee leads the SEC in league wins (65-31) since Pearl arrived and his record away from home is enviable;
- He graduates a high percentage of his athletes, rare in Division I basketball;
- He has raised huge sums for cancer screening and endowed a scholarship in the name of a former player;
- he has worn orange body paint at a women’s game; he has become a presence and an icon in just six years.
Pearl is not an evil man, hell bent on winning at any cost. He is not a thoroughly obnoxious figure like Bobby Knight, who threw tantrums and snarled at everybody, or John Calapari, who recruits players to play one year before turning pro and being, effectively, a farm team instead of a university.
He’s a good guy who shines a bright light on UT, whether it’s positive (most of the time) or negative (this year). He deserves to return to the university in order to show the good side again.
By the way, I didn't mention that he has a great looking girlfriend? She's gotta be at least 14.