Peterson Puzzle

It's only been four years since Buzz Peterson was hired away from Tulsa to take over a successful Tennessee basketball program, but it seems like a lifetime since the Vols were last a threat in March.

February ends today and Tennessee is once again on the ropes as the college hardwood's most important month arrives. In advance of a meeting with UT AD Mike Hamilton to discuss the direction of the program, Peterson is talking about getting tougher with his players and assistants. He's bringing up his North Carolina background and noting how it qualifies him to be a disciplinarian. He's acknowledging that recruiting is the lifeblood of any basketball program and how he intends to become more personally involved in that role in the future.

The only question Peterson didn't answer during his morning press conference is: Why did it take him four years to arrange his priorities?

In lieu of the Volunteers' struggles under Peterson which includes a 59-57 overall record and 1-5 post season mark, his no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy declaration seems dubious at best. It's like the death row prisoner finding religion on the way to the electric chair. It's like a farmer with a terminal disease trying to borrow money on next year's crop.

Here are some other questions Hamilton has to be able to answer before deciding Peterson's fate: • Even if Peterson was able to pull off the improbable by transforming his personality, would his players ever buy it?

• Even if the players bought it, are there any indications they have the talent to succeed?

• Even if they have the talent to succeed at the SEC level, is Peterson capable of maximizing their potential?

• Can he teach and instill fundamentals of sound play?

• Can he motivate them to give 100 percent on the court?

• Can he negotiate the tactical minefield of Xs and Os against strategic heavyweights?

• Can he evaluate basketball talent and sign it?

• Moreover, can he assemble players that complement each other on the court and form good chemistry off the court?

• Can he recognize and develop leadership qualities in his players?

• Can he define and install a philosophy and style of play that incorporates core principles necessary for success?

• If he can't, how can he know what type of players to recruit?

• It's true Peterson has had some bad breaks at UT, but doesn't good fortune follow good coaching?

The answer to a substantial number of these questions has to be "yes" in Hamilton's estimation or it's difficult to justify a continuation of the status quo. If Hamilton determines affirmatives to the vast majority of these questions he has another problem and another question. For how can Buzz Peterson sell his program to the quality of athletes needed to turn it around if he only has one year left on his contract, when he couldn't sell it to quality athletes when the Vols were on a four-year, 20-victory run and he was fresh off an NIT championship with a long-term agreement?

For certain there are a lot more questions surrounding UT's basketball program than there are answers at this point. That brings us to the ultimate question Hamilton has to answer: Would the Vols be better off going in a different direction?

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