NCAA Tournament 2010: Bruce Pearl, the Gem of Tennessee Vols Basketball

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IMarch 23, 2010

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 13:  Bruce Pearl the Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts during the SEC game against the Kentucky Wilcats on February 13, 2010 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

He's energetic. He coaches like his hair is on fire.

He wears loud, orange blazers and has been known to paint his body orange in support of Lady Vols Basketball.

The enormously successful coach of that ridiculously storied Lady Vols program has picked his brain for tips on coaching basketball.

He has led the Vols to 20-plus wins in each of his five seasons on the job.

His name? Bruce Pearl.

Following the 2004-05 Tennessee basketball season, Mike Hamilton had an important decision to make.

After Buzz Peterson's largely unsuccessful run as Tennessee's head coach, it was time for a change.

The national media was buzzing about a No. 12 seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee team that had just lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual national-runners up Illinois.

The coach of that team was Bruce Pearl.

Not long after that run, the underrated Pearl was the coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.

Pearl brought an immediate change in the mindset and demeanor of the basketball program in Knoxville.

When the Vols defeated highly-ranked Texas early in that '05-06 season, Vols fans started to take notice. When Pearl and the Vols took No. 1 Florida down twice that season, even more fans began to flock back to the once-stagnant program.

The season prior to Pearl's arrival, the Vols were 14-17 and had lost two of the best players from that team to graduation. Expectations for Pearl's first season were not high at all.

Picked to finish fifth in the six-team SEC East, Pearl somehow managed to get the team to play well above its ability.

The Vols finished 22-8 that season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Three of the next four seasons, this season included, featured runs to the Sweet 16.

One of those runs could be magic in the making.

Pearl's '09-10 Vols have the distinct possibility to be the most successful team in Tennessee basketball history should the Vols defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes Friday night to advance to the program's first ever Elite Eight.

So how did Pearl do it?

How has this coach from the Northeast taken a school in the Southeast to its highest heights in just five short seasons?

For starters, the family atmosphere that Pearl has instilled in the program has been a key component of the Vols success.

It has helped Pearl sign highly-touted prospects. It has changed the mindset of a team that was all about the individual into a cohesive unit that depends on each other.

Pearl's brand of defense has not hurt either.

Utilizing a pressing defense for much of his tenure at Tennessee, Pearl found success when his incredibly fast players would outscore its opponents on the fast break, transition game on a nightly basis.

But even when that style of defense proved to be a less than viable option (this year), Pearl has utilized a half-court zone defense that is second to none.

On the offensive end the Vols relied heavily on shooters like Chris Loften and JuJuan Smith. Those shooters have been gone for two years now, yet the Vols keep on winning.

The knock on this team all season has been its lack of scoring and inconsistency in the half-court offense. And still, the Vols are playing in their third Sweet 16 in four years.

How is that possible?

Bruce Pearl.

The head coach refuses to allow this team to be average. He expects full effort and most of the time he receives it.

I find it interesting that Pearl took over the basketball program around the same time that the ever-popular football program took a nosedive.

Tennessee basketball has been the only thing in Tennessee orange-and-white worth cheering for the last half-decade.

It still does not get the credit, media coverage, or the fan support it deserves, but this basketball program is now one to be proud of.

We can all thank Bruce Pearl for that.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.