Tough year for orange blazer

Like the American economy, the orange blazer is having a tough year.

The blazer is worn by Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl as a tribute to the late Ray Mears whenever the Vols play arch-rivals Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

The Vols are 0-2 when Pearl wears the blazer this season, however, losing to Vanderbilt 85-76 Jan. 27 in Knoxville and bowing 90-71 to Vandy Tuesday night in Nashville. Since Kentucky is cruising along with a 23-1 record and a No. 3 national ranking, there's a distinct possibility the orange blazer could go 0-4 this season. That would be unprecedented. Surprisingly enough, it never happened during Mears' watch.

The flamboyant Mears enjoyed tremendous success during his stint as the head coach of the Big Orange from 1962-77, going 399-135 and winning three Southeastern Conference titles. He seemed to hit his peak against the league's other premier programs of the era - going 14-14 against Kentucky and 19-9 against Vanderbilt.

In 15 years at the Vol helm Mears never went an entire season without beating Kentucky and/or Vanderbilt at least once. It nearly happened in 1965-66, though, when he lost to Vandy 53-50 in Knoxville and 53-52 in Nashville, then fell 78-64 to Kentucky in Lexington. Mears averted a shutout, however, by upsetting the top-ranked Wildcats 69-62 at Knoxville in the season finale.

The so-called "Barnum of Basketball" finished his career with a flourish, sweeping both Vanderbilt and Kentucky in his final season of 1976-77. He beat the Commodores 73-69 in Nashville, beat Kentucky 71-67 in Lexington, beat Kentucky 81-79 in Knoxville, then ended the regular season by beating Vandy 65-55 in Knoxville.

The orange blazer was invincible back then. This year not so much.

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