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: liveblueorfyou on 12/31/69 at 6:00

on the Phil and Tubby discussion one has to admit both coaches were handed great programs and turn them into medicore programs

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

Courier, I'll give you that.

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

May thanks EXCAT. I admire your loyalty and fervor.Liveblue, the difference with Phil versus Tubby is Phil got his title with his players...and a kind Arkansas fumble. Clint Stoerner should get a national championship ring from the Vols. Tubby's players still had that thick New Yawk accent in their minds. And I think Phil should get Tubby's nickname.

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

Kentucky talking football.Interesting.

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

courier37027 i will give you that flubby had so much talent and couldnt do nothing with it.

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

same here courier

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

All this is going to be special when Andy Kennedy taps that ass on Friday.Will you meet the bus again after a loss?

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

The only thing that bothers me about meeting Ole Miss, is their Big Men, and us with no Patterson. But as UK has proven, they can beat anybody in the SEC.

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

Y'all know that this is probably the most posts the guy that wrote the article has ever gotten.

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

Let's see:1) Gillispie finished exactly where predicted (2nd East), but had a WORSE overall record than UK had the year before. But he's SEC COY2) You claim Pearl's success is a result of talent? Gillispie has 6 players who were top 50 recruits. Pearl only has 2 players that UK offered. But Gillispie coaches 2 McDonald's AA's (Pearl has never coached one of those). Pearl DEVELOPED his talent. One of his top players is a former walk on, another is an overlooked kid (by KY) who was a great shooter, but has been developed into a great all around player.3) Pearl lost 2 SEC games by a total of 9 points. Gillispie lost 4 by a total of 41..oh wait...that was only ONE GAME!4) Pearl did twice the coaching job in his first season that Gillispie did in his. Pearl actually WON the division with 6 scholarship players (including that former walk on) and a 6-3 PF who couldn't jump or shoot. Oh yeah..and he got a 2 seed in the NCAAT. Did he win COY for it? No. John Brady did. Because he won the SEC. Did the rules change in 2 years?Get real, people. There is no logical reason Gillispie would even be considered for this award. Guiding a team to a worse record than the year before, a 41 point loss, and doing it while inheriting solid rectuits is not COY material.

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

BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE.well said.