Pearls of wisdom: Don't talk to officials

Tennessee Vols basketball coach Bruce Pearl has to be more careful about what he says to officials. Not at his college games. At high school games. For the second time in two years, Pearl had a confrontation with a high school basketball referee.

While recruiting 6-10 center Phillip Jurick of East Ridge in Chattanooga on Friday night, Pearl shouted to an official to let the kids' play. Jurick was frustrated at getting a fourth foul called in the third quarter. Pearl was frustrated for Jurick.

An official – not the one that called the foul on Jurick – told a school administrator that if Pearl said one more thing, he would be ejected. The administrator relayed the message to a stunned Pearl, who briefly went outside the gym, then returned to watch the rest of the game.

A year ago, Bruce Pearl was ejected from a West High School game in which his son, Steven, was playing.

This time, Pearl was apparently showing support for a recruit.

You've got to think the recruit appreciated Pearl's backing.

Perhaps what Pearl did was calculating.

At the same time, Pearl must be more careful about what he says, even if it is something as innocent as ``let them play.''

Pearl never had this problem when he was a head coach at Division II Southern Indiana or at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He said stuff to officials at those schools but never was threatened to be tossed.

But things are different here. Pearl has become a target. Maybe high school officials in the South are more sensitive than officials in the North. Maybe officials in the South have rabbit ears or have a shorter fuse.

Whatever the case, Pearl must realize he can't direct any comments to officials, no matter how harmless.

``I guess I can't say anything to an official,'' Pearl said. ``I didn't think I was threatening anybody. I'm embarrassed about it and I'm going to have to adjust. … I guess I need to get used to who I am.''

What he is is a high-profile Division I coach.

What he is not is a low-profile Division II coach or mid-major coach.

It might not be fair that he has to tip-toe around situations, but it also wouldn't help his program to get kicked out of another high school game and have his mug plastered on SportsCenter or Pardon The Interruption.

Mike Hamilton, UT men's athletic director, has discussed the deal with Pearl.

``He's Bruce Pearl, head coach of Tennessee's basketball team,'' Hamilton said. ``He's got to be sensitive and cognizant of that.

``I'm held to a higher standard, Bruce Pearl and Phillip Fulmer are held to a higher standard. We have to be aware that we are representatives of the University of Tennessee.''

Hamilton said he thinks Pearl has learned his lesson.

But shouldn't Pearl have learned his lesson with his son last year?

``I think he really has this time,'' Hamilton said. ``He won't be jumping on referees.''


Josh Tabb hasn't been a consistent scorer for Tennessee, but he did a terrific defensive job against Memphis, playing 24 minutes and not letting his man score.

Pearl wasn't surprised by Tabb's toughness. He saw it first hand when recruiting Tabb out of Harmony Prep in Cincinnati.

Tabb was playing against guard O.J. Mayo, generally considered the nation's No. 1 recruit in the 2007 class who recently signed with Southern Cal. Mayo was playing well until Tabb went toe-to-toe with the prep All-American.

For the next few minutes, Mayo didn't score. He took out his frustrations on Tabb and threw a punch, according to Pearl.

``Josh threw the last punch in that fight,'' Pearl said. ``I said, `I don't care if he can't score, I want that guy on our team.'''


Pearl thought he got a lot of mileage out of last year's team, winning the East Division, winning 22 games and getting a program-best No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But at a function after last season, Pearl said UT president Dr. John Petersen said Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt ``carried the water for the basketball program.''

Pearl then said to Dr. Petersen: ``You want me to carry water or walk on it?''

FREE THROWS: When UT plays Oklahoma State in Nashville, Pearl said Vol fans must make the Gaylord Entertainment Center a home-court advantage for UT. It wasn't last year for Murray State or earlier this year in the NIT Season Tip-Off. … Pearl said UT plans to honor an unnamed former great at a game this season and hang his name on a jersey from the rafters the way John Ward and Ray Mears were honored at the Kentucky game last year.

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