Hamilton Waiting On His Pitch?

With Tennessee's basketball coaching search in full swing, it's surprising that more information isn't being disseminated by the University concerning candidates that have been officially contacted or interviews that may be scheduled.

That could change dramatically anytime now, but the longer the process drags out the more certain it seems that UT AD Mike Hamilton has his sights set on a coach whose season is still in progress. That means Bruce Pearl of Wisconsin Milwaukee and Bobby Knight of Texas Tech are the prime suspects.

The idea of Knight coaching the Vols strikes many UT supporters as a little bit of hardwood heaven, while others might consider it a real time Knight-mare. As difficult as it may be for either to imagine, there are legitimate reasons it makes sense for both parties and that is the heart of any deal. How else would Steve Spurrier end up at South Carolina?

After 20 years of wandering the basketball wilderness, the Volunteers need a Moses to lead them to the promised land. In addition to having the white hair, Knight has the credentials, experience and drive, to say nothing of his 853 career victories. In many respects he's the perfect complement to Pat Summitt and her record 879 wins. Knight will pass Dean Smith's record in the next two seasons and would give Tennessee a pair of peerless basketball coaches who embrace very similar coaching philosophies based on defense, hustle, rebounding, good shot selection and the elimination of mistakes.

Knight may be ready for a move back to a bigger stage with more pay and perks to put the exclamation on his incredible coaching career. He might like the challenge of accomplishing it at Tennessee and the opportunity to compete against Kentucky. A longtime admirer of fellow Ohio native and former UT coach Ray Mears, he might be intrigued by the chance to restore the program to the national prominence it enjoyed under Mears.

Signing Knight makes a lot of sense for Hamilton who has been criticized for his handling of Buzz Peterson's dismissal. It gives UT instant credibility with its fans as well as the college basketball world. He's one of the only coaches in the country guaranteed to increase fan interest, ticket sales and attendance, which is also good for concessions.

From a practical standpoint, Knight is well within Tennessee's financial range and his buyout at Texas Tech is reportedly small, in the $100,000 range. He also has a son, Pat, who serves as one of his assistants with the Red Raiders and is highly regarded as a potential head coach. That speaks of continuity.

Yes, Knight also has baggage, but who among UT's last four head coaching hires didn't. And none of those could begin to match Knight's achievements or his ability to guide a team through the single-elimination tournament gauntlet.

Pearl could well be a better long-term answer for Tennessee, but his background is problematical in terms of a fit. A Boston native who graduated from Boston College where he first became an assistant coach to Dr. Tom Davis. He followed Davis to Iowa and spent a total of 14 years under the good doctor's tutelage. Pearl began his head coaching career at Southern Indiana where he won 231 games in nine seasons including nine straight 20-victory campaigns. He maintained that success rate after taking over at Wisconsin Milwaukee four years ago and has led the Panthers to unprecedented heights this season by reaching the NCAA Sweet 16.

Pearl has opened a lot of eyes with his resurrection of UWM and will be in demand following the completion of the current season. One of the contenders is sure to be UMass given his affinity for the northeast region. Indiana is also likely to be looking for a head coach and his years in the Hoosier State may make him a prime candidate for that position. Finally, there is a chance IU will look to replace Mike Davis with former Hoosier and fan favorite Steve Alford who is the head coach at Iowa. If that eventuates, Pearl's long association with the Hawkeyes would make him a strong contender for that job.

Tennessee could match financial packages for Pearl but it can't offer him the familiarity the other three schools could. And with two coaches being paid not to coach, it's not likely the Vols would be in position to get into a bidding war for Pearl even if he was receptive to southern living. An interesting aside on Pearl is that he was recognized in 1999 by Sport Magazine as one of the "Five Head Coaches on the Rise." On that same list was Buzz Peterson, Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech) and Mike Brey (Notre Dame).

Other viable candidates remaining in Tennessee's coaching picture include: Gregg Marshall, Bobby Lutz, Mike Anderson and Karl Hobbs. These four appear to be the strongest contenders at this point behind Pearl and Knight. Hobbs is believed to be the favorite of UT President John Peterson, but his UConn background may not be an asset on the Hill.

Lutz is the resume candidate with a strong history in academics and athletics and no glaring weaknesses, unless one considers his 5-foot-8 stature to be a liability. However Lutz's stock probably declined with four straight double-digit defeats to end the 2004-2005 season and his lack of NCAA Tournament success is a concern.

Anderson has made an impressive start at UAB but with only three years of head coaching experience under his belt, he might require more seasoning in the eyes of UT's Mike Hamilton.

Marshall's achievements at tiny Winthrop are nothing short of remarkable, but how well they might translate to Tennessee and the SEC is a sizable question mark. According to some sources, Hobbs and Marshall would probably be next in line after Knight and Pearl.

Tennessee basketball has a history of settling when it comes to its head coaching choices in the last 16 years. Getting a first or second choice for the job is the first or second step on the road to respectability. Hamilton is playing it smart by keeping his cards close to his chest. The last thing he wants to do is sabotage Texas Tech's or UWM's chances in the Big Dance by airing his intentions prematurely, which could also seriously damage Tennessee's hiring plans. With that said it seems unlikely Hamilton would be willing to wait without some reassurance of interest from his top choice in return, even if it comes from a second-hand source.

That's why all other candidates are currently pawns to Knight's next move.

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