With five full seasons under his belt as the University of Tennessee's head basketball coach, Bruce Pearl has navigated the perilous waters of major college basketball and anchored the Volunteers program among the nation's elite.
While making his fourth Sweet Sixteen appearance in the last six years, Pearl in 2010 managed to knock down the door and guide the Vols into the Elite Eight for the first time in the program's sterling history.
That historic NCAA Tournament run capped the most outstanding and memorable five-year period Tennessee basketball has ever experienced. During that span, Pearl's Vols have never failed to reach the 20-win mark or the NCAA Tournament. The SEC's winningest program over the past five years, Tennessee won the 2008 regular-season SEC championship, claimed three SEC Eastern Division titles and earned the school's first-ever No. 1 national ranking.
Success creates interest, and interested fans fill arenas and hit the road to serve as witnesses. Residing in one of the finest on-campus arenas in America, Tennessee has ranked fourth nationally in average home attendance in each of the last four seasons. Thompson-Boling Arena has earned a reputation as one of the nation's best homecourt advantages, and the Vols are 4-0 at home against top-five teams during the Pearl era.
2009-10 Season Highlights
|Pearl is one of only six active coaches with 10 or more NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances to his credit, joining Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams.|
"(Pearl) has taken down a lot of high-flying teams as the coach at Tennessee," ESPN.com's Pat Forde wrote in March 2010. "Playing his Volunteers is hazardous to your ranking."
Not only has Pearl attracted a raging and rabid fanbase--which traveled approximately 18,000 strong to see the Vols make their first-ever Elite Eight appearance last season--he has also attracted outstanding players to Knoxville.
Wayne Chism was Pearl's first marquee signee at UT. The Volunteers went 104-38 during Chism's four-year career, and he walked off the court in 2010 as the school's all-time leader in games played and wins. Chism also appeared in more NCAA Tournament games and logged more wins in the "Big Dance" than any Vol in history.
But perhaps more important is the fact that Chism extended Pearl's perfect streak of student-athletes who played four years for him at Tennessee--all have earned their college degree.
Stepping in for Chism and fellow departing seniors Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince is a signing class that was rated by Rivals.com as the fourth-best in the nation--Pearl's third batch of top-10 recruits at UT. America's most sought-after student-athletes continue to migrate to Rocky Top because Pearl and his staff are proven in player development.
"Bruce has done well and succeeded on every level," CBS analyst Clark Kellogg said. "He's done it with enthusiasm, passion and a system and style that really attracts players."
Boasting the fourth-best career winning percentage (.773) among all Division I head coaches with at least five years of experience, Pearl's success has been earned the hard way. His Tennessee teams have won using a fast-paced, pressing style of play--UT led the SEC in scoring in each of his first four seasons--and have also won with defense. Such was the case last season, when the Vols posted the best 3-point field-goal defense (.297) in school history and held opponents to just 65.0 points per game.
"Bruce doesn't get enough credit as a coach," UT athletics director Mike Hamilton said. "The guy can flat-out coach. He knows how to build a program. He's done it here."
Coach Pearl's locker room speech following Tennessee's historic win over top-ranked Kansas on Jan. 10, 2010.
|Thompson-Boling Arena has earned a reputation as one of the nation's best homecourt advantages. The Vols are 4-0 at home against top-five teams during the Pearl era.|
Tennessee also has sought out non-conference matchups with the most prominent teams and players on the collegiate landscape. Over the past five seasons, the Vols have defeated Kevin Durant and Texas, Derrick Rose and Memphis, Greg Monroe and Georgetown, Matt Bouldin and Gonzaga, Sherron Collins and Luke Aldrich of Kansas and Ohio State with National Player of the Year Evan Turner. That's in addition to logging SEC wins against future NBA standouts such as Ronnie Brewer, Glen Davis, Al Horford, Rajon Rondo and John Wall.
Playing such a difficult schedule has led to an average year-end RPI of 12.4 as well as three top-five seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Twice in the last three years Tennessee has landed in the top 10 in the final national rankings, with a high of No. 5 after logging a school-record 31 wins in 2007-08.
Tennessee's on-court success has not come at the expense of academics. A dozen different players have earned a total of 25 SEC Academic Honor Roll laurels over the past four seasons, including Dane Bradshaw, who received his bachelor's degree in three years and was completing a master's in Sports management while playing his senior season.
"You can't serve unless you are called upon."
That has been an oft-quoted Pearl mantra throughout his time at Tennessee. A tremendous ambassador for the university, Pearl's selfless community-service work and generous stewardship has made him one of the most influential public figures in the state. He was named "Knoxvillian of the Year" by Knoxville Metro Pulse in 2008 and also received the prestigious "Knoxville Award" this past year. The basketball program also has earned UT's Men's Community Outreach Team Award twice in the last five years.
Pearl and his wife, Brandy, have set a goal to raise $1 million over five years for the basketball program's highly successful OUTLIVE initiative to raise money and awareness about early cancer detection and prevention. The program has already netted more than $225,000 for the UT Medical Center Cancer Institute.
|Tennessee owns the longest active NCAA Tournament streak in the Southeastern Conference and is also the league's winningest program over the past five seasons.|
Pearl realized a lifelong dream in the summer of 2009 when his country called upon him to serve as head coach of Maccabi USA's open men's basketball team at the 18th World Maccabiah Games in Israel. He led the American squad to the gold medal for just the third time in 24 years, toppling favored Israel in the title game.
The Maccabiah gold marked Pearl's 16th championship during his head coaching career. In 18 seasons at the collegiate level, his teams have made a remarkable 16 NCAA Tournament appearances and racked up 26 NCAA Tournament wins. Only twice in 18 years has a Pearl-coached team not led its conference in scoring, and his squads have finished either first or second in their respective leagues an amazing 14 times.
Pearl has garnered six National Coach of the Year awards, and his teams have set school-records for wins at two different universities (26 at UW-Milwaukee in 2005 and 31 at Tennessee is 2008). His teams have also won at least 10 games in conference play in all nine of his seasons as a Division I head coach.
His NCAA Tournament resume is equally as impressive--as he is one of only six active head coaches who has led his teams to 10 NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances. Tennessee stands alongside Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, North Carolina and Xavier as the only programs in America to reach the Sweet Sixteen in three of the last four seasons.
While Pearl often exults that "it's all about the players," some of his most successful pupils direct the praise Pearl's way.
"When BP first got (to Tennessee), I was just a shooter," three-time All-America Chris Lofton said. "But by the time I left, he and his staff had made me into a scorer."
Current Chicago Bulls guard C.J. Watson is one of more than a dozen players Pearl and his staff have developed into NBA contributors.
"Coach Pearl gets all the credit for my success because he turned me into the player I've become,"Watson said. "He was the one who got me to attack the basket and allowed me to play more aggressive."
Aggressively promoting and selling his program and players has helped Pearl transform Tennessee into one of top 20 "most valuable" college basketball programs in the country according to Forbes.com, with a value of $14.1 million and a profit of $8.6 million in 2009-10.
During the Pearl era, Tennessee has played more than 70 games on national television, and a Vol has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated four times. In addition, Tennessee has been featured in an ESPN College GameDay matchup for three straight seasons--that ties for the nation's second-longest active streak on GameDay.
"Pearl has done a magnificent job of building confidence and belief in his players--and of selling his program to those closest to it--his own students and fans," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said.
|Pearl is the fourth-winningest active coach in all of Division I. His .773 winning percentage trails only Roy Williams (.798), Mark Few (.797) and Jamie Dixon (.778).|
Pearl's coaching career began at his alma mater, Boston College, as a student assistant coach to the legendary Dr. Tom Davis. After 14 seasons seated to the right of Davis, the 32-year-old Pearl embarked on his own head coaching career. But Pearl's first break came during his undergraduate career at BC when Davis offered him a position of student assistant in 1978. In 1981, the Eagles won the Big East Conference championship and reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. The following season, BC advanced to the Elite Eight.
When Davis moved on to Stanford in 1982, Pearl joined his staff as an assistant coach and then, at the age of 23, was promoted to associate head coach for the Cardinal. While in Palo Alto, Calif., they ended a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons with a 19-12 overall record in 1983-84, laying the groundwork for a resurgence in Stanford basketball. During that time, they recruited four players who were drafted by the NBA, including Todd Lichti, who finished his career as Stanford's all-time leading scorer with 2,336 career points.
After four seasons on the West Coast, Pearl followed Davis to Iowa in 1986. Over the course of the next six seasons, the Hawkeyes received five NCAA Tournament berths while compiling a 129-63 overall record. In 1987, the Hawkeyes recorded a 30-5 mark and advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to UNLV. The following year, Pearl was recognized as one of the top Division I assistants in the country by Basketball Weekly while helping direct the Hawkeyes to the Sweet Sixteen.
His six seasons in Iowa City helped produce 11 NBA draft picks for the Hawkeyes, including Brad Lohaus, Kevin Gamble, B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble and Acie Earl.
"From the time I met him he was able to get the most out of me as a player," Lohaus said. "He understood my personality and knew how to motivate me. He believed in me when others did not.
"He still stays in touch, offering his friendship and advice."
These 14 seasons with Davis provided Pearl a foundation of basketball knowledge that enabled him to move on to a head coach position.
"I feel like I had a great mentor in Dr. Tom Davis," Pearl said. "If you're any good at anything, chances are you had somebody pretty good who taught you how to do it. I had the pleasure of being by his side for 14 years. He was a brilliant defensive strategist. He taught me how to press and how to run, but more than anything else, he taught me how to work with young people, how to be patient, how to be disciplined and how to get the most out of them, even more than they ever dreamed they could have."
|Every Vol who has played four seasons for Bruce Pearl has left UT with his degree.|
Pearl's first head coaching opportunity came at Southern Indiana, a Division II school located in Evansville, Ind.
Inheriting a team that had won only 10 games the previous season, Pearl's first squad at USI posted a 22-7 record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. That first season was a precursor of things to come for the school. Over the next nine seasons, the Screaming Eagles posted a 231-46 (.834) record and won four Great Lakes Valley Conference championships.
They received NCAA Tournament bids in each of Pearl's nine seasons and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen six times. USI experienced unparalleled postseason success under Pearl's guidance. The Screaming Eagles won a national championship in 1995 and finished second in 1994. In nine postseason appearances, USI won 16 NCAA Tournament games.
After winning the national championship in 1995, Pearl was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division II Coach of the Year. Twice (1993 and 1994) he was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Coach of the Year, and in 2000, he garnered NABC Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year honors.
Late in the 2000 season, Pearl earned his 200th career win, making him the fastest coach in NCAA history to reach the 200-victory mark at one school. Needing just 240 games, Pearl easily broke the record of 250 that had been held by North Carolina State's Everett Case.
In Pearl's four years as head coach at UW-Milwaukee, the Panthers won a pair of Horizon League regular-season titles (2004 and 2005) and two Horizon League Tournament championships (2003 and 2005). They advanced to Division I postseason play for the first time in school history, making two NCAA Tournament appearances (2003 and 2005) and receiving an NIT bid (2004).
In 2005, Pearl led the Panthers to the most successful season in school history. In addition to winning regular season and conference tournament titles, UWM made its first-ever appearance in the Sweet Sixteen.
Pearl's 51-13 (.797) record in Horizon League games gave him the best winning percentage of any coach in league history. He became the second-fastest coach to win 300 career games with a 73-56 win over Loyola Jan. 8, 2005.
A native of Boston, Mass., Pearl received his bachelor's degree in business administration from Boston College in 1982, graduating cum laude. Pearl has two daughters, Jacqui and Leah, and two sons, Steven and Michael. He is married to the former Brandy Miller of Sevierville, Tenn.