Passionate Pearl

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — They still think he's crazy. They still bristke at his time-to-time blowups.

Only now, the Tennessee Volunteers understand and comprehend the reasons for their coach's madness. Well, at least five of them do. As for Tennessee's six newcomers this season, they've gotten a daily dose of Bruce Pearl's antics. Tennessee's second-year coach screams. He bellows, in fact. He belittles when necessary. He constantly teaches, proving points with increasing decibel levels. And it's a little much for an 18-year-old to handle.

That's where the team's veterans, the players who are now accustomed to their volatile coach, come in handy.

"It's really been pretty funny," said Tennessee junior Chris Lofton, a first-team all-SEC pick. "The freshmen get these big eyes, and they get all scared. I guess that's how we all probably looked last year."

The Volunteers may have been taken off guard by Pearl last year, but the results were well worth the uncomfortable times. In his first season in Knoxville, Pearl led Tennessee to a 22-8 record and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Wichita State upset the Volunteers in the second round, but Lofton said he considered the season a surprising success.

"Early on, everyone wasn't too sure how to react to him," Lofton said. "I mean, he's real fiery. He brings excitement to practice every day, even at 8 in the morning. Even during film sessions."

That's the only way Pearl knows how to coach. At full speed. All the time. It's what kept him going during nine seasons at Division II Southern Indiana, which included the 1995 National Championship. It's what made his four teams great at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. And it's what has people exciting about basketball in a state notorious for loving football — and football alone.

Now, with six newcomers joining five talented returners, Pearl has a chance to leave his intense imprint on a major program through his same approach. An approach that quite simply has frightened those players who don't yet know him well.

"I overhear the freshman asking the older players, ‘Is he always like this?'" Pearl said. "And my answer to that is, absolutely. It's my job to get the best out of my players and, for me, this is the best way I've found to be effective."


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