Pearl says bye to Benson

It's official. Chuck Benson will NOT be a member of Bruce Pearl's Tennessee basketball staff. The new head man completed his staff Wednesday by announcing the additions of Scott Edgar and Ken Johnson (see story elsewher e on this site).

Edgar, a 21-year coaching veteran, joins the Vols after three seasons as an aide at Alabama-Birmingham. Meanwhile, Johnson is the third member of the 2004-05 Wisconsin-Milwaukee staff to follow Pearl to UT. Tony Jones and Jason Shay are the others.

Pearl clearly is making a statement: He will not take short cuts and he wil l not be held hostage. Had he retained Benson, he would've had a better shot at signing Oak Hill Academy's Jamont Gordon, a second-team Parade All-American from Nashville who ultimately picked Mississippi State. And, had Pearl retained Benson, he would've had an easier time keeping Giles Counnty's Tyler Smith, who signed with UT in November but has wavered a bit since Buzz Peterson's firing a month ago left Benson's UT future in limbo.

Benson's value is increased by the fact his dad, Charlie, coaches the Tennessee Travelers -- one of the state's premier AAU teams. Many Vol fans are concerned that Pearl's failure to retain Chuck Benson may lead Charlie Benson to steer his top players away from UT in retaliation. Obviously, Pearl does not share the fans' concern in this regard.

Pearl's final hires show he is supremely confident he can build a winning program at UT without the Bensons, without Jamont Gordon and, if necessary, without Tyler Smith. That confidence is understandable. At Wisconsin-Milwaukee Pearl had no players of the Gordon/Smith ilk, yet he guided the Panthers to the Sweet 16 round of the recent NCAA Tournament.

While many UT fans viewed the retaining of Benson as a boost to recruiting, the hiring of Edgar should serve the same purpose. Prior to helping UAB ris e to prominence, Edgar was a head coach for four years at Murray (Ky.) State. He also spent six years (1985-91) helping Nolan Richardson maintain a powerhouse program at the University of Arkansas.

Pearl characterized Edgar as "my choice from the beginning" and a man who has "great recruiting contacts in the Southeast." Ironically, Edgar spent the past three seasons as aide to Mike Anderson, one of three finalists UT athletics director Mike Hamilton passed over when he settled on Pearl.

Bottom line: Tennessee's new head man could've humored Charlie Benson, Jamont Gordon, Tyler Smith and a lot of Vol fans by retaining Chuck Benson. But he didn't take the easy way out. Instead, Pearl clung to his own convictions and made a decision based more on courage than expediency.

Agree or disagree, you've got to admire him for that.

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