Friday, January 25, 2008

A Challenge Like No Other

Over the last two and a half seasons Bruce Pearl has rebuilt the Tennessee men's basketball program. With two tournament appearences in his two seasons, with one Sweet Sixteen, and another one a distinct possibility for the #3 ranked team in the country, Pearl has this program back and built to stay. While he has reenergized the program with his intense coaching style it has been his off the court style that has been even more impressive.

Upon his arrival to Knoxville in 2005, he discovered a program that was in disarray. There was little interest in the basketball program, and the only conversation anyone cared to have about basketball involved the national powerhouse women's program and their coach Pat Summit. While there are many coaches around the country that have managed to make their programs thrive at traditional football schools (Rick Barnes, Billy Donovan, Thad Motta, Tim Floyd) Bruce Pearl is probably the first that has ever had to deal with being the head coach at a women's basketball school. With coaching salaries soaring and most coaches striving to garner national recognition for themselves and their program, Pearl has had to check his ego at the door.

Playing on Pat Summit Court and making less than the women's basketball coach would be unheard of and unacceptable for many coaches. But Pearl has embraced the situation and in doing so has used it to benefit his program. From day one he used Pat Summit to promote the men's team, he used the success of the women's team to promote the men's team. He regularly attends the women's game to show a support in the program that has been returned by Summit. In doing so, he has managed to promote the men's program and draw of the large base of loyal women's supporters.

He also uses his courtside firery demeanor off the court. He gained national notoriety for both the men's and women's program for painting his chest and attending a Tennessee women's game in the student section. It was a move that won over students and got fans excited about Tennessee basketball, men's and women's. Last night he joined play-by-play announcer Bob Kessling on the air as the color commentator for the Tennessee women's game against Arkansas. You better believe that Summit was answering just as many questions from fans about Pearl and the men's team in the post-game radio show.

The key for Pearl in all of his actions is his sincerity. He truly cares about the women's program and goes above and beyond in supporting it. It is that sincerity that has won over Pat Summit and garnered her support. Pearl maybe a top coach and recruiter, but it is his ability to promote his program that sets him apart. He has won over Knoxville with his personality and has built a true homecourt advantage in an arena that used to be empty for men's games. He did a remarkable job of analyzing his surroundings, figuring out how to make the most out of it, and working within that environment to build and promote what could be well on its way to becoming an elite basketball program. In doing so, he has had to do something many coaches in the country could not imagine. Burying his ego and accepting his place as the #2 in the Tennessee basketball world.

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