Cuonzo Martin, the University of Tennessee Men’s Basketball coach, is on the proverbial hot seat. Nearing the end of his third season, Martin’s Vols are 17-11 and headed for his third straight NIT at Tennessee and fourth in a row if you include his last year at Missouri State. In Martin’s six years of being a Division 1 basketball coach, he’s never taken a team to the NCAA Tournament. So, how did he get the job at Tennessee?
Because no one else wanted the job; well, at least no one who wanted to win wanted the job. See, it’s hard to at Tennessee if you are a men’s basketball coach. Just ask Jerry Green, Buzz Peterson or Wade Houston, etc. how hard it is. The problem with Volunteer basketball is that you will always be playing second fiddle to Tennessee football. It’s just the way it is; the entire state bleeds orange on Saturdays. During the Pat Summit Era, men’s basketball was even placed behind women’s basketball. Men’s basketball has been an afterthought up on the Hill, and that’s why Dave Hart (the UT Athletic Director) needs to re-hire Bruce Pearl at the end of the season.
Bruce Pearl is the only coach to make Tennessee basketball relevant to the most important group out there — Tennessee Volunteer fans and alums. Pearl painted himself orange and went to women’s games. He wore orange blazers and checkerboard pants. He sold the program to anyone and everything around the city of Knoxville. Pearl was the one guy who not only embraced all of the problems that came with being the head basketball coach at Tennessee, but he was the one guy with the energy and the wit to overcome those problems. Plus, Bruce Pearl can flat out coach.
Pearl sold out Thompson-Bowling arena with his charisma and his style of play. Pearl played an up and down style of play that was not only fun to watch but effective. Pearl has won and won big at every place he’s coached. He led the Volunteers the Sweet 16 twice and to one Elite Eight, which is unprecedented at Tennessee. He’s a great recruiter as well, landing big name recruits during his stint at Tennessee. Pearl wins, and he wins big.
Yes, he lied to the NCAA and received a stiff penalty, but that rule isn’t even in the books anymore; Pearl’s punishment simply didn’t fit the crime. Either way, he’s more than paid for his mistakes. In a culture where Bobby Petrino gets chance after chance after chance, why not give Pearl another one? If you weighed the mistakes made by Petrino against Pearl’s, wouldn’t Petrino’s mistakes be a little bit heavier? Who did Pearl actually hurt? The NCAA?
If Tennessee wants to change the direction of their basketball program there is only one man for the job. He’s in the market; he’s looking, and it just so happens he still lives not too far from campus. So hire Bruce Pearl back, and do it quickly before another SEC school does.
Jason Love is a writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JloveWshs