AGE: Hamilton's first hire, basketball coach Bruce Pearl in March of 2005, was 45 years old at the time. The second hire, tennis coach Sam Winterbotham in October of 2006, was 33. Raleigh is 38. This seems to suggest Hamilton prefers younger coaches. Before settling on Pearl, however, Hamilton made a strong play for Texas Tech's Bob Knight, who was 64 at the time.
BACKGROUND: Clearly, Hamilton is not partial to good ol' boys from the South. Pearl (Boston) hails from the Northeast. So does Raleigh (Swanton, Vt.). Winterbotham was born on the other side of the pond (Stoke on Trent, Great Britain).
PLAYING EXPERIENCE: Due to a bum knee, Pearl walked on at Boston College, and wound up being a student-assistant rather than a basketball player. Raleigh walked on as a catcher at Western Carolina. Winterbotham was a four-time All-American at Oklahoma Christian, an NAIA school.
COACHING BACKGROUND: Prior to taking the UT reins Pearl had 13 years' experience as a head man – nine at Div. II Southern Indiana and four at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a mid-major. Raleigh coached eight years at Western Carolina, also a mid-major. Winterbotham had just four years' experience as a head coach but those came at Colorado, a major-college program.
SUCCESS: Pearl had incredible runs at both Southern Indiana (231-46) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee (86-38), winning at a .791 clip. He won a national title at Southern Indiana and was tabbed Horizon League Coach of the Year in three of his four seasons at Milwaukee. Raleigh elevated Western Carolina from 15 wins in Year 1 to 30 wins in Year 2 and claimed two Southern Conference regular-season titles. Voted the league's Coach of the Year in 2002 and 2007, he finished his eight-year stint with a winning percentage of .551 (257-209). Winterbotham had a losing record (42-56) at Colorado but improved each year en route to a 20-9 mark and Big 12 Co-Coach of the Year recognition in 2006.
WOW FACTOR: Though widely respected for his glittering record, Pearl was not a red-hot commodity at the time of his hiring by Tennessee. Many schools blacklisted him because, as an aide at Iowa, he once turned in Big Ten rival Illinois for an alleged recruiting violation. Winterbotham and Raleigh were relative unknowns when UT tabbed them, also. Still, Hamilton's afore-mentioned pursuit of Bob Knight indicates the athletics director is perfectly willing to make a "splash hire" if the opportunity presents itself.
Ultimately, Hamilton's hirings of Pearl, Winterbotham and Raleigh will have little bearing on the eventual search for Fulmer's successor. Winterbotham and Raleigh guide non-revenue sports, while Pearl assumed a program that had been mired in mediocrity for two decades. Conversely, football is Tennessee's cash cow, so making a wise – and popular – hire is critical.
When the time comes to select Fulmer's successor, Hamilton has little choice but to seek a "name" coach, someone with an impressive resume' who will unite and excite the fan base. Unlike Vol baseball, basketball and tennis fans, UT football fans are not a patient group. They expect an entertaining product. They expect success. They expect championships.
Moreover, they expect to keep up with the Joneses. South Carolina made a splash two years ago by hiring Steve Spurrier. Florida made a splash two years ago by hiring Urban Meyer. Alabama made a splash several months ago by hiring Nick Saban. Unless Hamilton makes a similar splash, Tennessee will be perceived as a second-tier program, unwilling to pay top-dollar in order to run with the big dogs.