Catching up with Bruce Pearl's staff

July, 6, 2012
7/06/12
2:20
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A show-cause penalty is a frightful thing. It conjures up fairy-tale notions of banishment from the realm, or old Soviet gulags on the Steppe, or at least that planet where Michael Jordan would have had to play had he lost to the Monstars in "Space Jam."

It's a serious punishment, sure -- it takes away from a college coach exactly what he's spent his last 20 years working toward, and it's hard to picture what that could do to the type of driven person that gets to be a college head coach in the first place. But fanciful notions aside, it's really just about finding another job. Todd Bozeman became an NBA scout. Kelvin Sampson became an NBA assistant. Bruce Pearl and his former Tennessee staff, the latest recipients of the NCAA show-cause banhammer, are no different.

[+] EnlargeBruce Pearl
Don McPeak/US PresswireFormer Vols coach Bruce Pearl is interested in trying his hand as a hoops broadcaster.
Pearl famously took a job as vice president of marketing at H.T. Hackney Company, a wholesale grocery owned by Tennessee booster Bill Sansom. But he hasn't left basketball entirely, and neither have his former staffers. The Knoxville News-Sentinel's Mike Strange caught up with Pearl & Co. Thursday, and found them sweating away in a gym, coaching as hard as ever:
Bruce Pearl was back in a gym Thursday, his enthusiasm radiating to 100 campers.

The gym was at Alcoa High School. Pearl's host was the Alcoa boys' coach, Tony Jones.

Are you going to coach again, I asked Pearl?

"I am coaching,'' Pearl shot back.

"I've got a sales managers meeting next week and I'm gonna be coaching.''

Pearl was the guest of his former assistant, Tony Jones, who took over at Alcoa High School and experienced almost immediate success. Another assistant, Steve Forbes, got a job at Northwest Florida junior college, where he hired fellow former assistant Jason Shay. (They went 30-2 last year, losing in the national title game.) All three coaches' show-cause penalties end this coming August, and they will be able to return to Division I college coaching should they so please.

Pearl, meanwhile, still has two years left on his show-cause penalty, and he is now talking openly about his desire to become a hoops broadcaster -- maybe forever:
Pearl says he's all-in with Hackney. The position allowed him to stay in Knoxville, which is still home to his four children. Hackney also allows Pearl to pursue media opportunities. He's been doing radio and hopes to join ESPN for the coming season. Nothing official yet.

"I want to see if I'm any good at calling games and being in studio,'' he said. "I want to see if the lifestyle fits and the travel is OK. I want to see if it fits with what I'm doing with Hackney.''

And if it does all fit, if it's enough, Pearl might not feel compelled to return to the bench.

"Coaching was just part of what I did at Tennessee,'' Pearl said. "I don't want to be defined by my won-loss record. I don't know that I want coaching to continue to decide where is home. This is home.''

We tend to think (or maybe it's just me) of show-caused coaches as not only shamed but driven anew, like old movie stars desperate for one last comeback, one last chance to feel the hot glare of the bright lights. And maybe Pearl feels that, and he's just not letting on. But judging from his comments, he actually seems at peace with his ban, or at least with what it has allowed him to figure out about his own life. He has an apparently real, full-time job, and a family at home, and the chance to coach in less glamorous but apparently no-less-fulfilling places like high school gyms. All in all, Pearl seems to be serving out his college hoops prison sentence with aplomb.

Anyway, the dude's going to be really good on TV. So much for banishment to the Steppe.

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