With the Tennessee Volunteers once again not living up to expectations this season, the rumors are flying in Knoxville. Why wouldn’t they be? Cuonzo Martin has not been able to get the Vols over the hump during his stay as the head coach of the Tennessee program. This is Martin’s third season as head coach, and it could be said that not one of his three teams reached its potential.
And that’s why part A of the rumor mill could be true: that Martin will be fired at the end of the season. This year’s team sits at 16-11, 7-7 in the Southeastern Conference. Last year, the Vols were 20-13, including a first-round NIT loss to Mercer. Martin’s first Tennessee team finished 19-15, including a second-round NIT exit.
Part B of the rumor mill is the more interesting of the two. That rumor is that Bruce Pearl, the former head coach of the Vols, who still lives in Knoxville, is ready to return to the sidelines. Pearl’s NCAA suspension for breaking rules, then lying to the NCAA about breaking those rules, is about to finish, meaning that if Tennessee fired Martin, they could hire Pearl.
Pearl made Tennessee basketball relevant during his time on Rocky Top. He led the Vols to a 145-61 (.704) record in six seasons, and even got the Vols to the top of the national rankings — in basketball. Pearl’s teams won or shared three SEC Eastern Division titles during his tenure.
Always a showman, Pearl brought attention to Tennessee basketball, whether good or bad. He was always self-promoting, whether it was painting his chest and attending a women’s basketball game, or wearing a bright orange blazer in games against the arch rival Kentucky Wildcats and Vanderbilt Commodores.
And while many Tennessee fans want to relive the glory days of Pearl’s tenure, they seem to forget how the story ended the first time — with Pearl running afoul of the NCAA rules, then lying to NCAA investigators about those violations. Is that really the type of person that fans should want running their program?
While hiring Pearl might be the popular choice in the short-term, it could be devastating to the athletic program in the long-term, especially if Pearl goes rogue again.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.