Pearl Does It His Way

By naming Scott Edgar to fill UT's last staff vacancy, Bruce Pearl sent a very strong message — he plans to stay awhile and he'll fail or succeed on his own terms.

For a program long adrift and without direction such a message is like two ample shots of vitamin B-12 pumped into the rump. Let's face it, UT has been without strong or dedicated leadership at the top for many years. Even if you allow for Kevin O'Neil's recruiting success and communication skills, you can't ignore his almost immediate interest in other jobs (any other job) or his weakness as a bench coach.

Besides O'Neil, who did attract talent and amp up interest, you have 13 years of Wade Houston, Jerry Green and Buzz Peterson a.k.a. Milquetoast, Malcontent and Mediocre. It sounds more like a biblical plague than a college coaching trio.

In fairness: Houston had no head coaching experience. Green had no tact and little energy. And Peterson had no track record of rebuilding programs. That proved to be significant due to the shape Green left the program, which included: heavy graduations, an overweight holdover, a weak signing class and a pair of projected starting guards awaiting dismissal by Peterson for offenses committed under Green.

However, the revolving door at the head coach's office in Thompson-Boling Arena hasn't turned nearly as fast as the door to the basket Vols' locker room. Peterson alone accepted five transfers in four years, including a couple of JC prospects, while he divested himself of even more players when they failed realize their potential under his tutelage.

But enough of beating a brain-dead horse, Peterson is now gainfully employed at Coastal Carolina and he has $1.3 million Big Orange bucks in the bank. He has a chance to rebuild a downtrodden basketball program and resurrect a coaching career which saw him once listed, along with Bruce Pearl, as one of the nation's five rising young coaches. Peterson seems genuinely affable and, understandably, most UT fans wish him well.

We'll never know what Peterson might have done at Tennessee next year with the likely addition of Tyler Smith and Jamont Gordon to a roster that featured three returning starters, but we have a pretty good idea. For certain, Tennessee would have had virtually no scoring threat in the post with Brandon Crump gone, and it's hard to imagine either true freshman contributing more points from the perimeter as fifth-year senior guard Scooter McFadgon did the last two years. The general lack of leadership, quality adjustments and well designed game strategy would have likely persisted. In short: Tennessee wouldn't have been any better off than they were this year, or last or the year before that.

Pearl has opened himself up for criticism by passing on Chuck Benson for the assistant's post. In the process he has lost Gordon and quite possibly Smith. Make no mistake about it, Gordon and Smith are good prospects with outstanding potential and, as in-state products, they would be important to UT's program. However, if the only reason they wanted to come to Tennessee was because of an assistant coach on the staff, they may not be the type of people you want you want to build a program around.

Neither expressed any sense of affinity, allegiance or even appreciation for the their home state University. Gordon, who never met a shot he didn't like, couldn't pass up taking a shot at Pearl and UT while announcing his commitment to the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, Smith apparently prefers not playing college basketball at all next season as to play for Tennessee. And to think, this is same person Peterson was counting on to provide leadership for the Vols next season.

Another meeting is tentatively set for coach and signee next week. Naturally, Pearl would love to add Smith to Tennessee's roster next season, but only on his own terms. By choosing Edgar, Pearl is demonstrating confidence in his leadership and belief in his system.

Additionally, he's saying he wants to be surrounded by people who feel the same way because he plans to be in Knoxville longer than four years.


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