Coincidentally, Pearl was recommended by no less than the other half of UT's dynamic duo Ernie Grunfeld, who is the current head of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. Grunfeld has an impressive track record as an evaluator of coaching talent which was underscored by his endorsement of Jay Wright in 2000 when the Vols were looking to replace Jerry Green.
UT's search didn't correspond with Wright's timetable and he accepted the job at Villanova a week before Tennessee hired Buzz Peterson. Four years later Villanova reaches the Sweet 16 where it comes within a basket of toppling top-ranked North Carolina, while UT goes 14-17 and misses the NCAA field for the fourth straight season.
But the synchronicity doesn't stop there. At the same time Tennessee was hiring Peterson who was fresh off an NIT championship in his first season at Tulsa, Wisconsin-Milwaukee was hiring Pearl who had completed his ninth season at Southern Indiana where he took over a team that finished last in conference play with a 4-14 record and posted 231 wins, nine straight 20-win campaigns, nine consecutive NCAA appearances, six Sweet 16 advancements, one national championship and one runner-up finish.
His impressive run at the Division-II college in a state where basketball is king, earned Pearl recognition by Sport Magazine as one of the nation's "five rising young coaches" in 1999. Ironically, Peterson, who has the same initials as Bruce Pearl, was was named to that same list. Six years later, Sport Magazine is no longer in business and neither is Peterson, although he leaves with a $1.4 million pay out and will, no doubt, coach again.
Although there are several things Pearl and Peterson have in common, it's what each man has done over the last four years that best defines their differences. Peterson took over a Tennessee program that had earned four straight NCAA bids, compiled 89 wins and failed to return the Vols to the Big Dance while compiling an mediocre 61-59 record. Twice he had losing seasons and he was a dismal 2-6 in post season play, including a 2-4 mark in the SEC Tournament and 0-2 in the NIT.
By comparison, Pearl, 45, took over a program that had never been invited to either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT in its 108-year history, despite being directed by current Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan prior to Pearl. In his first season Pearl tied the record for most wins by a first-year coach at UWM with 16. In his second season, Pearl won the Horizon League championship for the first time in school history while directing the Panthers to their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, losing to Notre Dame by a basket in the first round.
In year three, Pearl guided UMW to its second straight league championship while earning Horizon League coach of the year honors for the second straight year. The Panthers also tied the school record for most wins with 24 and went to the NIT for the first time where they defeated Rice in the first round. This season UWM won its third straight league championship and earned its second straight NCAA berth. Playing as the No. 12 seed, the Panthers upset No. 5 seed Alabama to break the school record with 25 victories. Peterson failed to beat Alabama in his four years on the Hill.
Overall in his 14 years as head coach, Pearl has amassed an impressive 317-84 record and never suffered a losing season. He has won at least 20 games in 13 of his 14 seasons as a head coach.
That follows a highly successful 14-year stint as Dr. Tom Davis' assistant at Boston College, Iowa and Stanford. "I have known and competed against Bruce since he got his start in coaching at Stanford," said Arizona's Lute Olsen. "He worked hard and learned from a very successful coach in Tom Davis. He has paid his dues and now he is showing that he is truly one of the bright young coaches in the country."
Pearl credits Davis with influencing much of his coaching philosophy but he's also borrowed and modified tactics of other big names in the profession like Bob Huggins, Dick Bennett, Bill Self and George Carl. During Pearl's six-year stay at Iowa, the Hawkeyes received five NCAA Tournament berths, advancing to the Elite Eight (1987) and the Sweet 16 (1988). Pearl helped Dr. Davis build a 129-63 record in those six seasons.
"Tom Davis taught me many things about basketball," Pearl said in an interview with OnMilwaukee.com. "He also taught me a lot about working with young people, motivating them, being patient with them, caring about them and how to get them to be the best they can be. "Huggins and Dick Bennett, their man-to-man defense philosophy. Bill Self, I got an interim break from him and George Karl, some of his offensive sets. But 70 percent of what we do is from Tom Davis."
Pearl's learning process began as a student at Boston College where he did whatever was needed just to be involved in the game of basketball.
"I wasn't a player, but I practiced with the team," he said. "I refereed practices. I helped coach. I was a student assistant. I was a manager. I even wore the mascot outfit one day when the mascot was sick. So I just, kinda like I still do as a head coach, do whatever it takes."
With that background it's not surprising that he married into a basketball family.
"I married my best friend's sister, and he was a four-year starter at Boston College," Pearl said. "I married a woman whose uncle is "Stormin' Norman" Sloan, who won a national championship in 1974 at N.C. State, and she obviously understands the profession and the time commitments and the pressures. And my family participates in everything that we do. My wife is very involved in the relations of our fans, donors and alumni and our players."
Pearl also has a well-deserved reputation as a solid recruiter and program promoter. He is a high-energy motivator and an excellent bench coach. Some of the notables he signed during the years are such former NBA talents as B.J. Armstrong, Kevin Gamble, Acie Earl, and Brad Lohaus. Here are some comments from those players about Pearl:
"Milwaukee is fortunate to have him as its head coach. At Iowa, he was a great coach a great friend and he made me feel like I was a part of his family."
- B.J. Armstrong, former Chicago Bull
"Pearly was always there for me. When I needed somebody to push me or when I just needed advice, he was the coach I went to see. After my playing days at Iowa were over, Pearly helped me reach my goal of playing in the NBA."
- Kevin Gamble, former Boston Celtic
"From the time I met him he was able to get the most out of me as a player. He understood my personality and knew how to motivate me. He believed in me when others did not. He still stays in touch, offering his friendship and advice."
- Brad Lohaus, former Milwaukee Buck
"I wouldn't have made it to the NBA if it wasn't for him. He showed great patience with me, taught me to improve, and motivate me to do it."
- Acie Earl, former Boston Celtic
A native of Boston, Pearl received his bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Boston College in 1982, graduating Cum Laude. Pearl and his wife, Kim, have two daughters, Jacqui (18) and Leah (10), and two sons, Steven (16) and Michael (8).
Pearl is expected to bring a fast-paced style of play to Tennessee which features full-court pressure on the ball with an assortment of traps and double teams. UT isn't a quick-fix situation but if Pearl can infuse the program with energy and make steady progress, he'll be hailed as a savior in Big Orange Country.
BRUCE PEARL'S ACHIEVEMENTS
* 1995 NABC Coach of the Year
* 1995 NABC Great Lakes Coach of the Year
* 2000 NABC Great Lakes Coach of the Year
* Fastest coach to 200 wins at one school
* Winningest coach currently in Division I
* Named one of five "Head Coaches On The Rise" by Sport Magazine in 1999
* NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite Eight as assistant coach at the University of Iowa
* NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite Eight as assistant coach at Boston College
* Named one of the top assistants in the country by Basketball Weekly in 1988
* Coached for 14 seasons alongside Dr. Tom Davis
* Coached numerous future NBA players, including B.J. Armstrong, Brad Lohaus, Kevin Gamble, Acie Earl and Matt Bullard
* 231 wins in nine seasons
* 1995 NCAA Division II National Champion
* 1994 NCAA Division II National Runners-Up
* Six NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearances
* Four Great Lakes Valley Championships
* Ranked #1 nationally six different times
* Nine consecutive 20-win seasons
* Nine consecutive NCAA appearances
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
* 86 wins in four seasons
* 2005 Horizon League Champions
* 2004 Horizon League Regular Season Champions
* 2004 NIT Participant
* 2003 Horizon League Champions
* 2003-2005 NCAA Tournament
* Three-time Horizon League Coach of the Year
* School-record 26 wins in 2004-05