Moore on the subject

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth among Big Orange basketball fans these days. By saying goodbye to UT assistant coach Chuck Benson, the Vols could be saying goodbye to top prospects Tyler Smith and Jamont Gordon, as well.

-f%-Tr? to deposed head man Buzz Peterson, Benson played a key role in the signing of Pulaski's Smith last November and the ongoing recruitment of Nashville native Gordon. Now that new coach Bruce Pearl seems unlikely to retain Benson, the Vols' chances of keeping Smith and signing Gordon appear to be diminished a bit.

Does that mean Pearl should retain Benson just to lock up Smith and Gordon? Based on historical precedent, the answer is no.

When health concerns forced Ray Mears to step down three decades ago, UT brass faced a similar decision: Cliff Wettig had posted a mediocre 11-16 record as interim coach in 1977-78 but he had a verbal commitment from a highly regarded 6-11 Midwest-area post player. Had athletics director Bob Woodruff elected to keep Wettig, Tennessee would've gained a star-quality big man.

Woodruff, however, figured a quality coach would do more for the program over the long haul than a quality player. That's why the AD released Wettig and hired Don DeVoe. The move paid tremendous dividends for Tennessee. DeVoe posted six 20-win seasons and earned five NCAA Tournament bids in his first seven years on the job. Would the Vols have enjoyed that much success with Wettig coaching the team? Probably not ... even with a touted 6-11 post player for four of those years.

Now Bruce Pearl faces much the same dilemma in 2005 that Bob Woodruff faced in 1978: Should he keep a coach he doesn't particularly want in order to get a player (or two) he DOES want?

Woodruff wisely looked at the big picture and this is what he saw: Signing a quality player might boost the program in the short run, but getting the right coaching staff produces a bigger pay-off in the long run.

The addition of Smith and Gordon probably would mean four or five more victories for Tennessee next season. Clearly, that's a strong argument in favor of retaining Benson, who also has ties to several of the state's outstanding junior prospects.

But if Bruce Pearl is convinced he can hire an aide who will provide more long-term benefits to UT than Chuck Benson could, he should hire that man ... even if it means losing Smith and Gordon.


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