Way back in 1978, some 33 years before Tennessee hired Cuonzo Martin to succeed Bruce Pearl, the school hired Don DeVoe to succeed Ray Mears. The similarities in the two situations are downright striking.
Consider the common traits of Mears and Pearl:
Mears won an NCAA small-college national title at Wittenberg (Ohio) University in 1961. Pearl won an NCAA Div. II national title at Southern Indiana in 1995.
Mears was a master of marketing and promotion. Nicknamed "The Barnum of Basketball," he copied the Harlem Globetrotters pre-game warmup routine, adding a Vol pedaling around on a unicycle for good measure. He even wore gaudy orange blazers to promote Big Orange Country. Pearl also became known as a marketing expert. He never met a microphone he didn't like, tirelessly promoting his program through community involvement, along with radio and TV appearances. He brought back the orange blazer for games with Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
Mears was outspoken, outrageous and controversial, taking a fiendish delight in riling his rivals. Opposing fans despised him as passionately as Tennessee fans loved him. Pearl proved to be even more outspoken, outrageous and controversial. Though adored by Vol fans, his sideline antics and swagger drove opponents crazy. Pearl readily acknowledged being the least-liked coach in the SEC, a badge he wore with honor.
Mears rose to the occasion in big games, posting a stunning upset of top-ranked South Carolina (1969) and breaking even with mighty Kentucky. Pearl rose to the occasion in big games, too, posting shocking upsets of second-ranked Florida (2006), top-ranked Memphis (2008) and top-ranked Kansas (2010) during his tenure.
Proving himself flexible, Mears shifted from a deliberate tempo to a fast pace during his final three years at Tennessee. Proving himself flexible, Pearl shifted from a racehorse tempo to a more deliberate pace during his final three years at Tennessee.
Mears' last four Vol squads won 72.9 percent of their games (78-29) but off-court problems (mental-health issues) cost him his job. Pearl's last four Vol squads won 70.2 percent of their games (99-42) but off-court problems (NCAA recruiting issues) cost him his job.
Due to his health problems, Mears' final season of 1977-78 saw him hand the reins to lead assistant Cliff Wettig, who served as acting head coach for all 27 games. Due to an edict from SEC commissioner Mike Slive, Pearl's final season of 2010-11 saw him hand the reins to lead assistant Tony Jones, who served as acting head coach for eight games.
Clearly, Mears and Pearl had a lot in common during their Tennessee tenures. Oddly enough, their successors - DeVoe and Martin, respectively - have several similarities, as well.
DeVoe was the polar opposite of Mears. Dignified and reserved, he ditched the orange blazer and dumped his predecessor's run-and-gun style in favor of a system built around a patient offense and a hard-nosed man-to-man defense. Martin is the polar opposite of Pearl. Dignified and reserved, he does not exhibit his predecessor's gift of gab nor his flair for the dramatic. Martin has made clear that an efficient offense and a tough man-to-man defense are the staples of his system.
DeVoe won a National Invitational Tournament title at Virginia Tech in just his second year as a head man. Still, he was a relatively obscure 36-year-old when Tennessee hired him away from a mid-major program (Wyoming) in 1978. Martin won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament in just his second year as a head man. Still, he was a relatively obscure 39-year-old when Tennessee hired him away from a mid-major program (Missouri State) earlier this week.
Vol fans should hope the similarities continue ... at least for a while. DeVoe beat Kentucky three times in his first season on The Hill and led Tennessee to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first five seasons. If Cuonzo Martin can match those feats, he'll probably have a campus street named for him someday.