SEC Welcomes a Pearl

Just wanted to quickly archive that the University of Tennessee has hired (now, former) Wisconsin-Milwaukee Head Coach, Bruce Pearl.

Pearl created a Division II National Championship program at Southern Indiana in the mid-1990s before heading to UWM. His biography (written prior to this season) on the UWM website has an interesting paragraph in it that is as follows:

“He is 271-67 in his 11 seasons as a head coach. He reached 250 wins in a Dec. 1 victory over Maine and Pearl also reached the 200-victory plateau at one school sooner than any basketball coach in history. He shattered the original NCAA record held by Everett Case of North Carolina State when it took him just 240 games to claim 200 wins.

On the Record
I’ve been watching Pearl and his program from the periphery over the last couple of years and have been more than just a little impressed with what I have seen. Therefore, I wanted to go on record as recognizing this as a great hire for UT. It will be interesting to watch their program develop.

For kicks…I will predict that within four years from today, the Tennessee basketball program will have very strong momentum after appearing in at least two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and will be obviously established at the top of the 2nd tier of SEC Basketball schools just under Kentucky and Florida- a tier currently inhabited by Alabama, Mississippi State, and LSU.

Pearl on ESPN Radio
I heard a great interview with Pearl on the Mike & Mike Show (ESPN Radio) on Tuesday morning on my drive to work. As as been discussed in a lot of articles, Pearl plans to bring a pressing, trapping, running style of play to the SEC that hasn’t been seen since Nolan Richardson and Rick Pitino walked the sidelines of Arkansas and Kentucky.

Mike & Mike had developed a past relationships with Pearl, so there conversation with him was entertaining. He is very engaging and I could understand high school kids being attracted to his balance of personalilty coupled with a very strong basketball resume. His interview was both refreshing and enlightening and touched on some interesting perspectives. I will summarize:

* Pearl’s goal is “to win”, Not to be happy watching kids try real hard. He made no bones about it.

* He commented on Buzz Peterson’s firing. Said that (paraphrase), “Buzz is a SUPER guy, but that he was just over .500 in four years. Face it…if I am just over .500 in four years here then I will be gone, too. You know this going into the profession and when you are hired by a big school. Tennessee has national championships across the board. They are successful in almost ever sport here and there is no reason that we shouldn’t be in basketball.”

I can’t tell how refreshing it was to hear a coach enthused about his opportunity while acknowledging that his goal is to win games and not complain that expectations are justified by his new paycheck.

Fowler’s Fit?
Did NC State AD, Lee Fowler really believe that UT – or any SEC school for that manner – would ever be attracted to a ho-hum ‘leadership’ style of a guy whose goals are to “be competitive”, “be real good” for any program? Let alone one of historical national stature like our former signature program of men’s basketball?

Could you imagine Fowler at Tennessee making similar comments to the ones that he made (AGAIN) last week where he states his position that NC State shouldn’t (try or be able) to compete with Duke and Carolina? LOL!!

I can see him now saying that “UT can be really good in football without having to compete with Alabama and Florida. Most schools in the country can’t compete with Alabama and Florida”…which would be identical to what he said last week when he said, “(NC State) fans are comparing ourselves to Duke and North Carolina. Every program in the country doesn’t do well when you’re compared with those two on a day-to-day basis. I understand that our fans want to be able to compete with them ? we all do. But you can be real good on a daily basis and not be better than those two programs.”

It continues to dumfound me that the leadership at NC State continues to sit back and allow such a dearth of success within our Athletics Department…especially in light of the embarassing NCAA APR Report Card that came to light last month. In Lee Fowler’s four and a half year tenure leading our Athletics Department, the Wolfpack has captured fewer ACC Championships than in any other five year period in our history. Of course, when your goals don’t include winning a title, then you can’t say that you are failing to meet your goals, can you?

In light of these thoughts, Lee may want to brush up on his ambitions before taking that run at the Ohio State job that he is eyeing. “We can be really good here without measuring ourselves against Michigan” will go over GREAT in Columbus, where John Cooper would still be coach and no recent National Championship would hang because there is no way that Lee Fowler would have had the nads to fire Cooper.

Sendek’s Fit?
When Buzz Peterson was fired and the Tennessee job came open a couple weeks ago, I did some thinking about Herb Sendek’s potential fit in Knoxville. It wasn’t a big deal…just me playing a scenario in my head.

Although Sendek has definitely flirted with other job possibilities in the past, he has always managed to revert back to the comfort provided him in Raleigh – an Athletics Director with no expectations of competing with the best, and a solid $800,000 a year paycheck that only major schools can offer that limits his pool of potential employers (that is more limited by his resume as major schools wonder if it would take him a decade to get their programs to his first Sweet 16 appearance without winning a title of any kind).

IMHO, the Tennessee job would have offered Herb a great opportunity for a fresh start. UT was already paying Buzz an almost identical amount as we pay Herb. Additionally, the school has tons of resources AND Sendek should be very familiar with with area since he was an assistant on Kentucky’s staff. With his love of relationships, the ones he cultivated in the area during his days at Kentucky could haved served UT well.

So, a few weeks ago I spent a few minutes on one of UT’s primary message boards to gauge their fans potential interest in Herb Sendek. It went over like a lead balloon. It was like a floated the name of Bobby Osborne. Who is Bobby Osborne, you ask? Well…that is the point. No matter how hard I tried…I could not get any UT posters to engage in conversations about Herb Sendek. They had dozens of coaching discussions going. Tons of interest in the topic…but zero interest in Herb Sendek (no matter how many times that I pumped my thread to the top of their board.)

Just for the record…here is what I posted on the UT Board:

“I propose to you, Herb Sendek.

Sendek was last year’s ACC Coach of the year and has now been to 4 consecutive NCAA Tournaments at NC State. He is the 4th winningest coach in the ACC over the last 4 years.

With a 3.95 GPA from Carnegie Mellon, he may be too smart! But, he is respected by all. Sendek is tireless and cannot be outworked. The guy lives for basketball and his family. Nothing else. He was the lead recruiter at Kentucky for Rick Pitino during their National Championships and Sports Illustrated once ranked him one of the top 10 recruiters in the country. He has a very strong relationship with Sonny Vaccaro (which never hurts…see Julius Hodge’s presence in Raleigh instead of Syracuse).

Additionally, his eye for identifying untapped talent is amazingly impressive. He recruited Wally Syzerbiak to Miami of Ohio and was one of the first college coaches to offer names like Tracey McGrady, Al Harrington and many other guys that ultimately developed into HS to NBA players early in the HS careers.

Sendek has been advised by many that are professionally and personally close to him that it may be his best career move to look for other jobs and get a fresh start. So, I fully expect him to be sniffing around for the right opportunities. Even with some of his struggles, Michigan, Nebraska, and Pitt all have all (supposedly) approached him in the past few years.”

When a single poster asked why he might be interested/available, I responded:

“It is a great time for his marketability, as he has built State back into a “solid competitor” (see 4 straight NCAAs) but NOT a Championship caliber program. This is not to say that he is a bad coach or cannot create a championship program; his situation just evolved in a less than ideal manner at State. Sendek took over this ACC program when he was 33 years old.

In hindsight, that may have been too young and inexperienced to start battling with Coach K, Dean Smith, Gary Williams and the like. So, he struggled to reach peaks in the early part of his career at State and these earlier struggles continue to dilute the perspective of the Wolfpack’s fan base of him.

You have to realize that NC State has a $166 million, 20,000 seat arena…and a fan base that was familiar with the Wolfpack’s prominence of 15 Conference Titles, 2 National Championships, and Top 10-Top 15 national program stature from 1945-1990. So, even though Sendek has established himself now…his relationships are still strained because of the length of time that NC State fans have been waiting to reclaim the glory days.

A fresh start for him and for the program would probably re-energize everyone. Financially, he would also be a fit. Peterson was making an almost identical salary as Herb (around $800k/year). Academically and from an integrity perspective, you couldn’t find a better steward for the school.

This is something for UT to seriously consider. He is still under 45 years old and can offer some serious stability and long term success to the right school at the right time. With Lawrence Roberts graduation at MSU, Donovan’s recent struggles at UF (prior to this year), Brady’s unhappiness at LSU, and Alabama fan’s unwillingness to accept basketball…UT is PRIME for a breakout. (Not to mention Calipari’s year at Memphis) I guarantee you that the talent that Gottfried gets at Bama and Calipari at Memphis would immediately be competed for in Knoxville with a former warrior from the ACC.

Fresh start + money = greater livelihood.

Sendek literally would have to win a National Championship to get A MAJORITY of Wolfpackers back in his camp. Not just a few. The overall environment (and pressure) in the NC State community is very difficult for all parties.

Conversely, he is now always one bad season away from utter implosion. When you are in a situation like that, you have no control. What if one player gets injured and ruins the season? At State, he has gone beyond having any margin for error for anything like that. It is unfair to everyone involved.

The fresh start would be great for all parties. Plus, his total comp at NC State has stagnated right around $800K. UT can obviously pay that plus some. If he got a raise in Raleigh right now the Athletics Director might literally see his house burn. UT is probably prepared to pay MORE than $800k since they just fired a coach making that much.

4 straight NCAAs, ACC COY, great recruiter, familiar with the conference, high integrity for $1MM?

If he signs with UT, he will get 5 years guaranteed. At State, his contract is rolling down to 3 or 4 years in addition to sitting on the verge of being terminated at the first hiccup. Why not take a guaranteed block of 5 years to be paid?

He gets a raise and a new start and would be guaranteed the money for a longer tenor than he is now?

That is why he would/should be interested.”

General NCS Basketball

One Response to SEC Welcomes a Pearl

  1. Chris 03/30/2005 at 4:36 PM #

    Listening to a Roy interview this morning on 1090 and he says the most important parts are the relationships with the players. He said they all give it 100% everyday and that is all they can do. If they win great, but they just try to keep knocking on the door and eventually one day they will knock it down.
    He had some words for the fans too that i think many of us would not have taken to well. He said something like he has more desire in his pinky than any fan has. he asked what fans had invested in the team.. he said they just want to have something to talk about at the watercooler.

    Shame on Roy for talking about relationships being important.

    Author’s Comment: Coach K says many of the same things. Then again…when you are generally considered two of the best coaches in the history of your sport and have set more records than Mark Spitz…you can say anything that you want.

    Roy/K/Others have that luxury BECAUSE they are the best at what they do. They are considered to be the best at what they do because they WIN…Not because you have nice relationships. You see, Roy/K/Others take care of the winning part so that they can promote their program with the “family” spin and also doscuss human development and relationships. The key there is that they win first; if Roy didn’t win like he did, he wouldn’t be around long enough to focus on these all important relationships. Just ask Bill Gutrhridge and Matt Doherty.

    I would be surprised if Roy’s comments were as combative and confrontational towards his fanbase as you represent. That is generally not very good decision making for anyone.

    Just because a coach comments about Relationships isn’t a bad thing. When a coach “focuses on relationships” and doesn’t have a record of winning or a reputation for being focused on deliverying top tier results then the relationship talk comes of as hollow.

    The talk comes off as particularly hollow from a coach that leads the NATION in defections from his program in the last decade and who has very strained ‘relationships’ with his former players and other alums from the program.

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