Former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl has been hired by ESPN as a studio analyst and in-game color analyst for the upcoming basketball season.
We’ll pause to let that one sink in for a bit.
Not because Pearl doesn’t deserve a second chance. He absolutely does. The man shouldn’t wear a scarlet A because he tried to cover-up a barbecue.
Not because Pearl won’t be good in this new role, either. Pearl is a natural. Like Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, UT’s ex-hoops coach is a salesman first, second, and third. I suspect he might just be so good in the broadcast booth that he decides not to return to coaching. Dick Vitale can’t work forever, after all. And can’t you imagine a man who once painted his chest for a women’s basketball game someday becoming ESPN next over-the-top, carnival barker for college basketball?
No, we pause because this hire is simply bizarre on a number of levels:
1. Tennessee fans can now stop saying ESPN hates their Vols and Pearl. During the 2009-10 season, UT fans were treated in every Tennessee game airing on ESPN to a “timeline” graphic showing just how Pearl’s situation had unraveled. Apparently — as we at MrSEC.com said at the time — that was being done to inform non-UT fans who might be tuning into the game of the odd circumstances surrounding one of the teams on the floor… and not just to hammer Tennessee or Pearl. Vol fans were just stuck seeing it week after week, game after game. But there was no hate for Pearl or UT from ESPN after all.
2. Or vice versa. While suspended for eight SEC games, Pearl watched those ESPN broadcasts, saw the timeline graphic, and heard ESPN analysts weigh in on whether or not he should survive after lying to the NCAA. Now, after a year working for a grocery supply company, Pearl is headed to work for the same network that so thoroughly covered his transgressions and downfall.
3. Pearl must hold no grudges toward the individuals he’s likely to bump into either on set or off in Bristol, Connecticut, either. From Jay Bilas — who called for his head on a plate — to Dick Vitale — who bizarrely said UT should fire Pearl and then immediately stated Pearl should get a second chance at another school (strange logic) — Pearl doesn’t seem to harbor any ill will toward those folks. As far as we know, he’ll be in the same building and maybe on the same set with them.
4. No one was going to touch Pearl with a 10-foot goal in the year immediately following his departure from Tennessee. He was damaged goods. A year away out of the spotlight — except for a part-time radio gig on Sirius/XM — has apparently washed away Pearl’s sins, though. Clearly ESPN is no longer concerned with the events they chronicled on that famous timeline graphic. In fact, they’re not worried that they now have a college basketball analyst who currently has two more years to go on an NCAA show-cause sentence.
5. For Pearl and ESPN, business is business. Pearl will make a great addition to ESPN’s team regardless of how things ended at his last job and all the national pub that went with it. ESPN provides Pearl with a nice check and a way to stay close to the game. And don’t underestimate the number of administrators these in-game broadcasters meet and shake-and-howdy with over the course of a season. Mark Gottfried was fired by Alabama, went to ESPN, was then hired by NC State, and just finished a darn-good first year back on the bench. Business is business and Pearl could either become a broadcast star or work his way back into the game. ESPN will get a likeable new on-air personality.
6. It will be interesting to see how Pearl is asked to handle and how he does handle any scandal that pops up during the season. He’s been through the proverbial wringer and the answers I’ve heard him give regarding other folks’ scandals on Sirius/XM have been very good. He’s certainly not called for anyone else’s scalp and — from what I’ve heard — he’s always been quick to point out he himself dropped the ball on the barbecue/cover-up affair. Still, when a scandal pops up — and a few will — it will be interesting to see if ESPN asks for his take and what kind of take Pearl might give. On the four-letter network, will he suddenly call for a coach’s dismissal the way Bilas called for his?
Pearl will do well at ESPN. Here’s hoping he calls a few SEC games just so I can catch his work (’cause I don’t watch a lot of action from other leagues and I sure don’t watch many of ESPN’s five million studio shows).
But there’s no dodging the fact that his hiring dispels the myths that he hates ESPN and ESPN hates him and Tennessee. Hey, maybe that’s the new conspiracy theory — ESPN tried to drive Pearl out of Tennessee so they could hurt the Volunteers and land him in Bristol.
“I’m really excited about it,” Pearl told The Knoxville News Sentinel. “I think I can bring some passion and knowledge to the broadcasts.” No doubt.
Today, Pearl must feel a bit like Delmar O’Donnell. A year away from the game and all his sins have been warshed away. Good. This world needs a little more forgiveness and redemption.