Tony's doing fine

Bruce Pearl's eight-game SEC suspension has reached the halfway point with Tennessee posting two wins and two losses during his absence from the bench.

When the Big Orange lost at Arkansas and at home to Florida in associate coach Tony Jones' first two games filling in for his boss, however, some Vol fans were worried. Pearl wasn't. He had confidence in Jones, who justified that confidence by guiding Tennessee to crucial wins vs. Vanderbilt and Georgia in the past five days.

"At this point it's very safe to say that Tony Jones knows his way around the coaching box," Pearl said. "There's lots of facets to being a head coach, and I'm trying to do every single one of them with the exception of on game day.

"The thing Tony and the assistants have answered is that on game day they can handle it. I'm very happy for him personally and professionally, as well as the assistant coaches and the team."

After observing the past four Vol games on TV, Pearl confides that watching was no easier in Game 4 than it was in Game 1.

"It's the same as the first time," he said. "The winning is easy. The losing is difficult."

Although the head man watches each game with an analytical eye, he admits getting caught up in the action during the final minutes.

"I'm as much a fan as any Vol fan at the end," he said. "The pad and paper are long gone by the time the game's over. I've long since left my couch. I'm up there screaming and cheering and praying, just like every other Vol fan is."

Several TV commentators are saying Pearl's punishment was too soft - that he should have been suspended for the entire season or even fired. Asked for his take on these opinions, the coach paused thoughtfully before responding:

"They have a job to do," he said. "That's how I have to look at it. These decisions (regarding his punishment) are made by people that have all of the information. Sometimes people do say things without all of the information....

"Sometimes it is puzzling when people say things when they don't have all the facts. But that's their job, so I try not to take it personally.

"I think you've got to pay attention as to what's news and what's not. I don't at this point think it (suspension) is too new."

Because the eight-game suspension was imposed by SEC commissioner Mike Slive and covers league games only, Pearl will be on hand when the Vols play UConn Saturday at the XL Center in Hartford. Naturally, the head man is excited about his return to the bench.

"I am," he said. "But what I've tried to do is, I've tried to keep everything as normal as we can. I've been absent for four (game) days out of 14 days. The other 10 days we've been trying to keep things precisely as they always have been."

Pearl and staff will try to maintain that business-as-usual approach the rest of this week, as well.

"The difference is, I'll be there on Saturday," he said, "and that'll be the only difference."

Since Pearl wasn't on the bench for the past four games and won't be on the bench for the four games that follow, you might wonder why he'd bother breaking the routine vs. UConn.

The coach admitted that he thought about sitting out the game before deciding, "I wasn't sure what purpose it would serve.

"We put some unprecedented penalties on our program," Pearl added. "There's no question that the visibility of it all has played a part in some of our struggles ... as it should. That's what happens when you get suspended and you have self-imposed penalties: There's going to be an effect, and there obviously has been."

Still, when he's allowed on the bench, Pearl made clear that he'll be on the bench.

"I know what my role is," he said.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories