Pearl brings toughness

Tennessee's new basketball coach should bring some much-needed toughness to the downtrodden program.

Bruce Pearl, fresh from a 26-win season at Wisconsin-Milwaukee that ended with a competitive loss to top-ranked Illinois in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament, was introduced at 3 p.m. today as the Vols' sixth coach in the past 17 years. One of 10 finalists for the 2005 NCAA Coach of the Year Award this year, he was tabbed coach of the year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 1995 after leading Southern Indiana to the NCAA Div. II national title.

Recognized as a tireless recruiter and excellent strategist, Pearl was voted Horizon League coach of the year in three of his four seasons at UWM. Prior to that he led USI to nine consecutive NCAA Tournaments. His overall record in 13 years as a head man is an imposing 317-84. He needed just 382 games to reach the 300-victory plateau. Only Roy Williams (Kansas and North Carolina) has gotten to 300 quicker, doing so in 370 games.

Pearl succeeds Buzz Peterson, who was relieved of his duties after going 61-59 in four years with zero NCAA Tournament bids.

Asked to describe his coaching style, Pearl responded: ''We're aggressive, we're physical and we're unselfish. We're a tough preparation. When you prepare to play us, it's different. It's just different, and I think that's what makes it effective in a tournament situation -- whether we're playing in an NCAA tournament or a holiday tournament. It'll be tough.''

Speaking of tough, Pearl vows to recruit ''tough kids'' who fit his uptempo style of play -- a style that stresses transition offense and hardnosed fullcourt defense.

''It (toughness) is not something you can teach but it's certainly something you can expose,'' he said. ''I think Kentucky's teams have embodied that. When Ernie and Bernie (Grunfeld and King) were here they embodied that. Ron Slay embodied that. And those guys won.''

The problem is, Pearl has inherited players recruited by Peterson who are widely viewed as being too soft. The question naturally arises: How do you field a tough team with not-so-tough players?

''I'm not concerned about it,'' Pearl answered. ''They want to play the right way and they want to win. Buzz left it in good shape. They're good kids and they work hard. Now we just hope to take it up a notch.''

Pearl already met with UT's returning players. All of them expect to return for 2005-06, including freshman guard Chris Lofton, who reportedly mulled a transfer when Peterson was canned.

Pearl's next order of business is to finish off his staff. He is bringing two Wisconsin-Milwaukee aides with him, Jason Shay and recruiting coordinator Tony Jones. Pearl plans to interview several candidates for the remaining two spots on his staff, including 2004-05 Vol assistants Chuck Benson and Ed Conroy. Benson reportedly has a strong relationship with Oak Hill Academy standout Jamont Gordon and a star-studded junior class of in-staters.

Pearl says he will meet with November signees Tyler Smith, Matthew Dotson and Damion Harris as soon as possible, then hit the recruiting trail. Unless a current Vol with eligibility remaining chooses to leave, Pearl has just one scholarship available.

''I want to sign at least another player of impact,'' Pearl said, ''as well as put ourselves in position to do a great job with the junior class in-state.''


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