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Former University of Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl spoke at a pancake breakfast for the Cherokee Middle School football team last Saturday.
“I'm proud to be the former coach of the University of Tennessee,” Pearl said. “My family and I, this is where we want to be and so it's still great to be a Tennessee Vol.”
Pearl served as head coach at Tennessee from 2005-2011. He posted a 145–61 record during that span and took his teams to six NCAA tournaments. While he enjoyed a lot of success on the court, Pearl's time at the school didn't have a storybook finish.
He was dogged by NCAA violations toward the end of his tenure and was subsequently fired on March 21, 2011. Pearl spoke about it at the pancake breakfast.
“Y'all believed in me and I let you down when I made a mistake that cost me my career,” he said. “Yet I think most folks have said, gosh I wish he hadn't have done that, but I forgive him for doing it and hopefully the good outweighs the bad. That's allowed me to sort of stay in the community and keep my head high.”
Pearl, 52, now works for H.T. Hackney. He's also been hired as a basketball analyst by ESPN.
“I'll be in the studio most of the time and I'll have a few games,” he said of the ESPN job.
Pearl challenged the student athletes in attendance to make the most of their talents.
“Our job as coaches is to inspire you to get the most and take the most of the blessings God's given you, so be the best that you can be,” he said. “Enjoy that process. Raise the level of expectations that you have for yourself.”
Pearl told the student athletes to focus on their strengths.
“You can't be great at anything unless you're already good at it,” he said. “Go to your strengths. You can work on your weaknesses and sometimes it's better to just kind of get them up to where they can be OK, but we spend way too much time working on our weaknesses and not enough time working on our strengths.”
Pearl spoke about former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. She retired earlier this year.
“Most of the time she's fine, but there are sometimes when there's a hesitation,” Pearl said, “and with that hesitation, it put her in a position where she couldn't be at her very, very best. Therefore she said if I can't be at my very, very best, I don't want the Lady Vols to be coached by me.”
Pearl also spoke about the Tennessee football team, which lost to Florida 37-20 at Neyland Stadium last Saturday. The Vols play Akron, a team from the Mid-American Conference, this Saturday.
Pearl indicated he'd like to see tougher non-conference opponents on the football schedule. Pearl said when he was basketball coach, he had a play anybody anywhere approach to scheduling.
“When you do that you tell your players and your program this is where I think we should be,” he said. “That's what Pat (Summitt) did. That's what Phillip (Fulmer) did.”