Tennessee basketball’s 87-77 victory on the road over the Auburn Tigers Tuesday night allows the Volunteers to finally move past the Bruce Pearl era.
He is the most successful coach in Men’s Tennessee Basketball history, and the Vols’ accomplishments under him should never be forgotten.
We can also all agree that Mike Hamilton’s handling of Bruce Pearl’s firing in 2011, from not standing up for Pearl in the scandal to the actual decision to fire him, were all terrible miscalculations.
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But Pearl’s success in Knoxville, those miscalculations by Hamilton that angered fans, and his eventual hire at Auburn have come together and hung as an albatross around the Tennessee basketball program.
Even in the midst of a Sweet Sixteen run in 2014, the albatross caused one coach to leave in Cuonzo Martin, which was a terrible look for the program nationwide, and then saw Dave Hart make a huge miscalculation in hiring Donnie Tyndall as his replacement.
Then, after Tyndall’s firing, Tennessee basketball fans gave up on ever having stability. Rick Barnes came in and had a losing record his first year. Then, going into this year, he built his team around freshman three-star recruits.
All the while, Pearl seemed to be developing something at Auburn and was energizing his fans about the future. At the same time, Vols fans everywhere kept clamoring for the program to hire Pearl back.
It’s time to put that talk to rest.
Tennessee’s road win over Auburn Tuesday night should finally allow the Vols to end their obsession with Pearl and think about what the program is doing now.
Pearl had losing records his first two years at Auburn. He’s now trying to move onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in his third year.
And that’s with lots of high-profile recruits.
Meanwhile, Barnes is in his second year in Knoxville. And he has the Vols at 13-9 and squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble already with a Top 5 ranked strength of schedule.
In fact, this cast of freshman that was picked to finish next to last in the SEC is now 5-4 in the conference.
Barnes is over-achieving massively, and the future only looks brighter.
Pearl has under-achieved each of his past two years. In fact, he’s 1-4 against the Vols since taking the job at Auburn.
What could Barnes be doing in Knoxville right now that you don’t like and that Pearl could fix if he were there?
Barnes took over a program in much worse shape than what Pearl inherited in 2005, when Tennessee hired him.
And in his second year, he has the Vols in almost the exact same spot Pearl had the Vols his second year. But Pearl did it with much more elite recruits.
When it comes to play on the court, Barnes is pressing and playing up-tempo basketball the same way Pearl did, which won over all the fans in Knoxville immediately.
In fact, Auburn was the team that couldn’t handle Tennessee’s tempo and run and shoot offense Tuesday night.
So essentially, the only thing Pearl has that Barnes doesn’t at this point is Barnes won’t take his shirt off and paint his chest for a game, he likely won’t create a rap verse for his team, and he’s not going to jump into a mosh-pit with students like he’s still a college kid.
This isn’t to say Pearl’s still not a great coach, that he didn’t have a great six-year run at Tennessee, or that he won’t be successful at Auburn eventually.
But it is to say that after Tuesday night’s win, it is time for Tennessee to permanently move on from Pearl and think about the future.
They owe it to Barnes and these young players.
Heck, they owed it to Cuonzo Martin and his players and even Donnie Tyndall and his players as well.