Pearl returning to basketball scene with ESPN
by Michael Hiestand, USA TODAY Sports
So a highly-successful college basketball coach — who’d led his school to its first No. 1 national ranking ever — is fired over NCAA violations, which included him lying to the NCAA.
Where do you think he’d be, say, 18 months later? You probably wouldn’t guess this: Bruce Pearl this month begins appearing in a prominent on-air role for what amounts to college basketball’s lead marketing arm — ESPN.
“I realized I’d made a mistake that cost me my dream job,” says Pearl, recalling how he felt after being fired as Tennessee’s basketball coach in March, 2011. “I was hopeful that people would examine my career and evaluate me on my body of work on and off the court. I was hopeful for some grace, that it wouldn’t end my life in basketball. Because that’s all I’ve done for 33 years. I’m grateful to ESPN for forgiving me for my failure.”
But Pearl suggests that his situation, where despite his scandal he now has a star analyst role at ESPN that would be out-of-reach for most out-of-work coaches, didn’t just happen by accident. Years ago, he says, he saw coaching as a means to get to a TV perch.
After racking up a 231-46 record over nine seasons coaching Division II Southern Indiana, Pearl became coach of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2001. Getting that job in Division I, he says, “Was part of my motivation to do something in coaching to put me in a position to be an (on-air) basketball analyst, to get to where I’d accomplished enough so fans would be interested in what I had to say.
He tells USA TODAY Sports he especially wanted his team to perform when ESPN TV crews were courtside: “At Tennessee, with legendary coaches like (women’s basketball coach) Pat Summitt and (football’s) Phil Fulmer, one of my goals was to gain their respect. And when certain broadcast teams came in — with Bob Knight, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas – I wanted my teams to play well so they’d see it and comment on it.”
Not that Pearl wasn’t noteworthy in his own right, from being edgy in … [For more on Exiled Pearl returning to basketball scene with ESPN, click here.]