Pearl validates decision to fire Buzz

The jury was split when Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton fired Buzz Peterson as men's basketball coach.

Peterson supporters argued that Buzz should be given a fifth year. They argued he had signed Tyler Smith and was about to sign Jamont Gordon – two top-notch recruits. They argued he was a good man who just needed more time to get UT's program going.

Opponents conceded that Peterson was a great guy, but he simply wasn't a good coach. His teams weren't in shape, didn't play good defense, didn't play smart basketball. They point out that after four years, Peterson was just two games over .500.

Whatever doubt there might have been about Hamilton's decision to fire Peterson has been erased. Bruce Pearl's 95-78 victory at No. 6 Texas validated Hamilton's decision to make a change and hire a diamond-in-the-rough of a coach.

Pearl has energized Tennessee's basketball program like no coach since Ray Mears. There are those that even think Pearl resembles Mears.

Pearl is the complete package. He can recruit, coach, promote and motivate … and he has an engaging personality. He has players believing. He has fans believing. He has the media believing.

Tennessee's 17-point win over a top 10 team on the road was mind-boggling.

Last year, Texas beat Tennessee by 25 points. This year, with less talent, the Vols led Texas by 25. It was one of the most remarkable turnarounds from one season to the next in UT basketball history.

Pearl pressed Texas into many of its 22 turnovers. UT, meanwhile, had just 10. The Vols spread the court and shot lights out, making 12 of 24 three-point attempts. Chris Lofton hit five treys, JuJuan Smith four.

As Tennessee's lead grew, Texas coach Rick Barnes sat on his duff, not calling timeouts or trying to stem the tidal wave. UT – Tennessee's UT – kept pouring it on. The margin grew so vast a couple of runs by Texas in the second half fell well short.

This Tennessee transformation is attributable directly to Pearl.

The Vols are not only in better shape and play better defense and smarter on offense, each one is better than a year ago. C.J. Watson, who had never shot better than 42.6 percent in a season, is drilling over 55 percent of his shots, 61 percent from 3-point land to lead the SEC.

Lofton is a more complete player, showing an ability to shoot on the move. Dane Bradshaw is giving the team a lift on the boards. Major Wingate has scored in double figures in each game this season. Andre Patterson is shooting 55 percent, hitting the boards and improving at the foul line. Stanley Asumnu, who scored 2.4 points per game last year, is averaging in double figures.

When Tennessee was 5-0, you still had doubts about how it would perform against a quality opponent. Now that the Vols are 6-0, you wonder if it's good enough to beat Oklahoma State Dec. 22. You wonder if this team can make the NCAA Tournament. You wonder if it's good enough to win half of its SEC games. You wouldn't be wondering those things if Peterson were still the coach.

But this isn't to pick on Peterson. It's to praise Pearl. It's also to demonstrate what good coaching can do to a team.

SELFISH PLAYERS LEAD TO NO-NAME JERSEYS

Pat Summitt had considered for a couple of years taking the names off the jerseys of her players. She pulled the trigger before last season and has stuck to her guns this season.

When a fan suggested the names be put back on the jerseys, Summitt had an intriguing response: ``We'll put the names back on the jerseys when Tennessee gets a new coach."

I don't know how long Summitt will coach the Lady Vols, but she clearly has no intention of playing the name game – or the blame game.

Tennessee put names on jerseys in the 1970s when the program could first afford them, said women's sports information director Debby Jennings. Now, they're done.

``The whole reason is we were dealing with people that didn't put the team first," Summitt said of the no-name jerseys, noting that Alabama under Bear Bryant and more recently Penn State and Notre Dame in football and Connecticut in women's basketball don't bear players' names on jerseys.

``We had a couple of kids who were incredibly selfish. Obviously, those people know who they are and it was significant enough to take action. It's a more common occurrence with a talented team. The more talented the team the more difficult it is for players to buy into roles."

Summitt wouldn't name the selfish players, but she has had two transfers in the past few years – April McDivitt, who went to UC-Santa Barbara and Michelle Munoz, who transferred to Ohio State.

Summit said that before UT's last national championship game –two years ago against UConn in New Orleans – some senior players came to her complaining about the selfishness of some teammates. Summitt gave the seniors advice on how to handle it.

Afterwards, Summitt decided to take matters in her own hands. She had an abundance of young talent coming into the program in 2004, and she felt the best way for them to play as one would be to have one name on the jersey – Tennessee.


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