Around the SEC: The anti-Pearl crowd reveals itself

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 1:15am

Lest anyone thinks Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl is not the most polarizing coach in the Southeastern Conference, here’s all the proof you need:

On Tuesday, he was named co-SEC Coach of the Year, sharing the award with Kentucky’s Billy Gillispie, in a voting of his peers.

And it was highway robbery.

How UK finished 12-4 in league play after the embarrassments of November and December is still a mystery. Gillispie did an admirable job in salvaging Kentucky’s season and deserves credit accordingly.

Here’s the catch: Gillispie had to dig himself out of his own hole and still doesn’t have a championship to show for it. Pearl, meanwhile, had the Vols rolling along all season, culminating in UT’s first-ever No. 1 ranking and first outright SEC title in 41 years.

And for that, he is forced to share the award?

This proves conclusively that while Pearl might be the SEC’s flashy, rising star, he’s also among the most despised coaches in the conference.

Had any other coach in the league guided his school to its first No. 1 ranking and first SEC championship since before Woodstock, he would have been a slam-dunk pick for Coach of the Year.

Not with Pearl, though, and it’s because his combination of winning and bombast rubs people the wrong way.

Were Tennessee not winning, Pearl’s orange coats, Patton-like public speeches, bare-chested TV appearances and windy self-promotion would not be a source of such consternation.

Start winning conference championships, however, and all those things become doubly irritating. Suddenly, Pearl is like an annoying gnat that can’t be swatted away.

Contrast Pearl with Florida coach Billy Donovan, who has won two consecutive national championships but still is well-liked. You’ll rarely, if ever, hear a coach say a bad word about him.

Why? Because Donovan plays it close to the vest, espouses humility and even dresses “appropriately” for every game. In coaching, there are certain things that are acceptable and certain things that aren’t.

As for a slick-talker such as Pearl, the other coaches’ attitude is, ‘Well, we’ll show him by not voting for him as Coach of the Year when he clearly deserves to win it outright.’

Funny thing is, Pearl knows how he is perceived around the SEC and doesn’t care. He just goes about his business – which has at times justifiably been criticized – and is building Tennessee into a national power.

Pearl has a prime opportunity to get under everyone’s skin again as the SEC Tournament begins Thursday in Atlanta.

Unlike the women’s tournament, which is often a three-day dog-and-pony show to get to the inevitable Tennessee-LSU championship matchup, the men’s tournament is usually unpredictable.

In two of the past four years, the regular-season championship hasn’t even played in the SEC Tournament championship game.

Further, Tennessee hasn’t won the tournament crown since 1979 and hasn’t even competed in the title game since 1991.

We look for that to change this season and for the Vols to knock off Mississippi State on Sunday.

If so, rest assured there will be a lot of annoyed coaches around the SEC.

Brett Hait covers Vanderbilt athletics and the Southeastern Conference for The City Paper. He can be reached at bhait@nashvillecitypaper.com.

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By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I am a Vanderbilt fan. Having said that there is no question in my mind that Bruce Pearl deserved to be SEC coach of the year. This was an article that should have been written. I am afraid that his envious peer group are going to have a lot of years in the future where the only way they have of evening the score with Pearl is to vote against him. They are sure going to have a hard time beating him.

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Wow, pigs are flying, I agree with Frank! I also, being a Vandy fan, think Pearl should have won hands down.

By: brye on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Then how do you explain the fact that Donovan, coach of the two-time defending national champions, has NEVER won SEC coach of the year...even on a shared basis?

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I'm not saying Donovan was not deserving but with the talent he had, he was expected to win.

By: brye on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The same argument exists this year...who in the SEC has more talent than UT?

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Kentucky fans will tell you Gillespie deserved credit because he burned his maroon clothes when leaving Texas A&M. Gillespie crawled on his hands and knees from College Station TX to Lexington KY, wearing only sackcloth and ashes. Entering Kentucky as their new savior, Gillespie first knelt at the grave of Adolph Rupp.

By: BillyGillispie on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Courier - No. Kentucky fans will tell you Billy Gillispie voted FOR BRUCE PEARL and Bruce Pearl voted for Rick Stansbury. The other half of the coaches split between the co-winners. What does that tell you about your beloved pearl and the evil gillispie???

By: Dodd on 12/31/69 at 6:00

You put your foot in your mouth when you added Donovan to the equation. Donovan has never even shared the title of coach of the year but at least Pearl has. Pearl did in the SEC regular season this year what Donovan did last year and that was win the conference like everyone predicted with the best talent in the conference. Please, explain why a well liked coach like Donovan has not won the honor and try in the future not to insert something into your article that defeats your argument.

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Billy, all I believe is what Zone-rs Kevin Ingram and Darren McFarland tell me. One would think UK has a satellite campus in Nashville. Billy Gillespie was forced to divorce his wife before taking the UK job. Tubby Smith dedicated only 15 hours a day to his coaching. Kentucky needed a 30-hours-a-day guy with no family, no life, plenty of blue mist Armani suits. If Bear Bryant left Kentucky for Texas A&M then this Gillespie hire was simply revenge. It was their Rupp-given right taking an A&M coach back to Lexington. Now that Bruce Pearl, Cat fans will tell you, is all smoke and mirrors. There is no substance, just flash. The Vols' record is misleading and all the writers, voters and coaches spit on Adolph Rupp when voting Tennessee number 1 this year.

By: chirop1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I was about to post the exact same thing as Dodd. If Donovan is so well liked and did exactly what Pearl did... then there must be some other factor in why he didn't get it. The bottom line is that expectations play into who wins and who doesn't. If you're picked to be first in the pre-season, you pretty much need to have a stellar year to win it outright. Something like going undefeated in the league or along those lines. Some people may not like Pearl's antics... but it had nothing to do with why he had to share the award. Coaches recognize good coaching.

By: BillyGillispie on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Courier - "All I believe is what guy A and guy B say" WOW. The rest of your rant is even worse.

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Billy, I know typing and the written word are not the best indicators of parody. Indeed that was my intent--parody and sarcasm. Kentucky fans hold onto the past more than the usual sports fan, exception being Alabama football fans. Bear Bryant this, Bear Bryant that...man has been dead 25 years now. I think air cheeks would support the Mcfarland and Ingram UK adoration. Sorry you missed the humor.

By: marscatt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Gillispie took over a program that had finished 9-7 in the league the last 2 years, and in his first season with all kinds of injuries and less talent, he went 12-4. How does he not win it outright, that should be the question.

By: jamiecarroll on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I think Dodd is right. Brett, your argument is flawed.

By: chirop1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

As another comment... even Dickie V who loves Pearl as much as one hetero man can love another hetero man in public said that Gillispie should get coach of the year. Doing more with less gets you recognized... doing what you're supposed to do with more is considered "your job."

By: Fed on 12/31/69 at 6:00

GARDNER. WEBB.srsly.

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

chirop, if you call Dickie V's man crush on Pearl publicly acceptable, where do you classify Mr. Vitale's enamored status with Duke and Coach k? I am thinking just this side of stalker.

By: marscatt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Exactly Fed, that's why what he did is so amazing, he went from losing to Gardner Webb at Rupp, to beating UT at Rupp, and playing UT within 3 at TB without Patterson, Meeks, and Crawford only playing 24 min. due to fouls, and only scoring 9. Man, how does he not get National Coach of the Year?

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Once Kentucky wins the NIT, then Gillespie can be called coach of the 66th best team in the nation.

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hey Pitino, do you want to defend Grant Hill's inbound pass? Nah, we will just doubleteam Laettner instead.

By: lamons on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Glad to hear someone else with the feeling that Zoner's Ingram and McFarland should be in Lexington...they don't even try to hide their "homer" attitude about the Cats. I can't imagine a Lexington station with two UT or Vandy grads talking them as frequently as we get UK talk here. Yes, there are a lot of UK fans, but can we at least feel local radio has some support of local teams.

By: KG on 12/31/69 at 6:00

LOL at all the people saying Pearl should've won it outright for winning the SEC when he had far superior talent and was picked to do so. Had Pearl not been outcoached at Rupp (and thompson boling, although they won) and went undefeated, he would've. winning it when you're supposed to = your job, running the table = exceeding expectaions. The argument are like the dad who ditches his family but he makes those alimony payments on time and considers himself "a good dad

By: EXCAT93 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hey courier, if UT ever reaches a championship game then you might be eligible to talk smack. That means the NCAA Championship not the NIT, that also means the mens team not the womens. Thought I better clarify that since the womens team will get there before the men, as usual.

By: sherwood8 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Tennessee fans- if you want the rest of the CBB world to NOT treat you like a flash in the pan- don't act like one. This year's success is because of the last 3-4 years of recruiting and coaching...a long process. It is NOT the result of one year and one year's coaching job. UT was picked to win the SEC, and they did it. What's so special about that? You want an award because he did what was expected of him? And, if you think people hate Pearl because of anything at Tennessee, you're even more disillusioned. Pearl, although a great motivator and coach, has a history of being "less than honest" and brings a long-standing, long list of people who don't respect him. And, it has nothing to do with his orange suit. I'm all for second chances, but if you think fans forget scandals and when coaches cheat.... well, ask UK fans if people EVER stop reminding them about it.

By: BHait on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hey all-I've read all the comments, and while there are some good points, I stand by my belief that Pearl was Coach of the Year this year mainly because he achieved a No. 1 ranking and SEC title at TENNESSEE, of all places. In case we forgot, Tennessee is not exactly a men's basketball school.As for Donovan, all I can say is that he hasn't won the award perhaps because his coaching peers didn't feel he deserved it. We ARE talking about the coaches' vote here, not the media vote or anything else. Five players from Florida's roster last season are now in the NBA. Maybe SEC coaches thought Donovan simply benefited from great talent. Obviously, they think Pearl did a great coaching job this year because they voted for him in a split with Gillispie.Food for thought: How many players from the current UT team will play in the NBA?Thanks again for the comments. While I disagree entirely and chuckle at the notion that my argument is "flawed," we appreciate the feedback.

By: CatFan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

You guys must be smoking something!!! Pearl had better talent to start the season, and if he had the injuries Billy G had to handle, you guys would be finishing well below what we did. We were 4 points or one game from winning the SEC east. Meeks would have been a 13-14 point scorer this season and Patterson is one of the best in the SEC. Could Pearl have won the SEC without some of his top players. No. Jasper missed half a season and Patterson, Crawford, and Bradley have all missed games (6 of top 7 with many missing more than just a few games). I am not saying Pearl did not do a great job, but you need to look at the talent level and injuries in detail before writing such things. If you wonder how UK fans really feel, just know that some UK fans think this one of the best coaching jobs we have seen at UK. Think about that---Rupp/Pitino/Sutton/Smith

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I'm a Vandy fan. It's a joke that Gillispie shared this with Sweaty Bruce. He was going to be run out of Lexington not two months ago. Pearl is the guy you hate until he's coaching your team. Then you love him. If Pearl coached UK, every Vol fan would hate his guts. That's how it works.

By: marscatt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

"It's a joke that Gillispie shared this with Sweaty Bruce. He was going to be run out of Lexington not two months ago."Exactly, and he was able to turn it around in that short amount of time! That right there is some great coaching! Yall keep reinforcing what a great job Gillispie did!

By: brye on 12/31/69 at 6:00

"In case we forgot, Tennessee is not exactly a men's basketball school."Until Donovan's arrival, neither was Florida. Your decision to contrast Pearl with Donovan only makes sense if Donovan had, in fact, received this award in the past. He hasn't.

By: Anna3 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I am a Memphis Tiger fan...and I will have to say...The Vol nation didn't win any friends with Pearls behavior in Memphis. People like a gracious loser AND a gracious winner but Tennesee fans obnoxious public behavior has little need for one of its high profile coaches fanning and joining in their behavior. I know it turned off one possible recruits family.

By: Fed on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I just see no reason to give a man coach of the year for cleaning up his own mess.2nd in the league. YAY!

By: Fed on 12/31/69 at 6:00

BTW ... Register and bring this to the table with us over at www.smashsouthsports.comFreedom of expression unlike Catspause.

By: Fed on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Yes ... that Memphis win was HORRIBLE for recruiting.

By: chirop1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If winning the SEC regular season title was all it took to be coach of the year; then Kentucky's coaches should have 27 for Rupp, 8 for Joe B. Hall, 1 for Eddie Sutton, 2 for Pitino, and 5 for Tubby. Having a team that wins when it is supposed to does not equal a superior coaching job. The fact of the matter is, it took outstanding coaching jobs when you're NOT supposed to be good that wins you the award. Gillispie's team was not supposed to be good this year entering SEC play.

By: marscatt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hey Fed, come to www.kentuckyink.com there is no deleting or editing.

By: EXCAT93 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

marscatt, Fed can't come to Kentucky Ink. You have to be able to intelligently communicate, not spout one liners that don't hold water

By: EXCAT93 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

UT fans are just upset that this is the best year they have EVER had and the mens program is still playing 2nd fiddle to the women

By: Fed on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Actually, Pat's team did not win the SEC this year.But we love the ladies as well.Pretty dominate on both sides.

By: BHait on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Again, brye, I'm talking about THIS season and how the coaches voted. I don't know why they voted as they did in years past.

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

EXCAT93, the football is that oblong ball with laces. They plkay their sport in the fall. You may remember that glimmer of Top-10 the Cats had when Andre' took the snaps. By the way, didn't Eddie Sutton say he would never ,eave Kentucky, then resign 24 hours later?Oh, and have those DHL packages become sturdier since the Chris Mills incident? I wonder how many titles the Cats would have won without player payoffs and alkie coaches?

By: Fed on 12/31/69 at 6:00

WILDCA$H

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Glad to see former Kentucky standout Ron Mercer keepin' it real too.

By: marscatt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Orange with envy?

By: EXCAT93 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

courier, get your head out of your A$$ and quit living in the past. I think it's great you know so much history about UK, but I guess that's probably due to the fact that UT doesn't have any. It's a shame that you're bitter about football too. It must really suck to root for a school that the best thing they can offer is a WOMEN'S basketball program.

By: EXCAT93 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I believe Ron Mercer is from Tennessee isn't he? You can take the boy from TN but you can't take the TN from the boy.

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

BHait: do you, Ingram and McFarland get together weekly for your Wildcat man crushes? I forgot to add you into that mix of blind blue mist (intentional lower case letters) loyalists?

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

EXCAT, you loved Mercer when he was bringing titles to Kentucky? Are you saying that tennessee talent and basketball is superior to Kentucky? There was a time when wearing the blue and showing up at a recruit's doorstep guarantted him a Wildcat. Today that has changed. How many Tennessee teams are in the NCAA tournament this year? Mercer...hmm...can;t find him in the UT press book. Same for Vanderbilt...where did Mercer learn his thuggish ways? Goodpasture or UK?

By: Fed on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Agreed this is 2008.Who has accomplished more this year?un-huh

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Glad to see Pitino was open minded enough to recuit the type (Mercer) of player Rupp would not touch. By the way, how did UK lose that 1966 championship game? Did Conley, Riley and "Rupp's Runts" get outplayed at Maryland's Cole Fieldhouse? Glory Road indeed. Don Haskins sends his best.

By: EXCAT93 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

courier, I believe Mercer learned his ways on the streets of Nashville. TN basketball isn't even superior to Vanderbilt much less Kentucky. I don't know how many TN schools are in the tourney, nor do I care. Just put all of your hope on Austin Peay cause they will probably go the farthest.