The Volunteer State of mind is a series about the lifestyle of the Volunteer f..."/> The Volunteer State of mind is a series about the lifestyle of the Volunteer f..."/>

The Volunteer State of Mind-Its Basketball Time In Tennessee?


The Volunteer State of mind is a series about the lifestyle of the Volunteer fan by Staff Writer Jake Smith. It is less about on the field and more about in the stands, including everything from going to games, to tailgating, to life on campus. 

Its late March, 2005,  and the usual Tennessee Basketball coach-replacement routine is back for another round of mediocre men who sem to go unnoticed under the shadows of the mighty FootVols. After saying farewell to “Michael Jordan’s good friend” a.k.a. Buzz Peterson, Rocky Top welcomed a best kept secret to the SEC basketball scene by the name of Bruce Pearl. No one that I knew of had any information on the guy. I took it into my own hands to scavenge the internet for any basis on which to judge this very ballsy man as to why he would consider coaching the Tennessee men’s basketball team. His prior success at the D-II level was perplexing at most. He obviously knew a thing or two about the hoops game because he had the wins to prove it.

The doubts in my mind remained, but as a Vol for Life it was my duty to give him my full support. How would he do with another coach’s recruits? How does he act off of the court? Can he reemphasize the Tennessee Basketball culture that has beem long gone since the Ernie and Bernie Show?  But most importantly, can he win?

By the time his first season had come around, everyone across Big Orange Country knew his name. Players respected him, fans loved him, and opposing coaches feared him. Thompson-Boling Arena would start to see sellout crowds, and ESPN took notice. Our new coach had cemented his credibility fast in the limelight and at the time the world seemed at peace. Football had not yet to start its downfall, but thats another issue. Despite not having any recruits, Coach Pearl was using these scrappy players to dominate opponents. Defensive pressure was what he preached and for some reason there was no trouble putting the ball in the basket. Intensity was the name of his game and it put a fire in the underbelly of the Tennessee Basketball program.

This success carried on into the next few seasons. The “BallerVols” had even reached a number 1 ranking in the process. As football was slowly regressing, basketball was able to unite Big Orange Country and its faithful. However, off the court issues were starting to ensue. It isn’t my duty to breakdown each and every bad thing that happened (that is what Google is for) but they definitely had a negative impression towards me.

Having played basketball throughout middle and high school, I was exposed to the raw side of the game.  I was able to start forming my own opinions and was also able to understand how the college game was played. I noticed how the Coach Pearl offense was so basic that it bothered me. He would call out “different” plays but to any former basketball player, they all looked the same. It was simple, they would set up in a stretched flex set and continuously interchange the forwards and center through back screens until a mismatch was created. After that, if the guards didn’t take the ball themselves, the mismatch would be given the ball and encouraged to score at will. Now this was more prevalent after Dane Bradshaw and Chris Lofton had moved on. Mr. Bradshaw knew how to make good decisions and manage the game, which in turn kept the team under control and Mr. Lofton simply shot the lights out every game, no one complained. But back to the “offense,” I soon learned that based on this simple isolation-style flex offense was not good coaching. It had produced signature wins and put Tennessee Basketball into the postseason, but it would soon be exposed to myself that it was not so great. Coach Pearl was not an X’s and O’s coach.

It is now Coach Pearl’s last season. He is weathered down and now seen by some as a villain. In my eyes he was a cheater, plain and simple. He lied. End of story. Although he had managed to get the Tennessee Basketball team to one last NCAA Tournament, Coach Pearl was fired the day before his final game against Michigan. I was on spring break at the time and had to listen to the game on the way home. It was so bad at one point that I switched off the radio and accepted the fact that Tennessee Basketball was now in a mess just like the Football program. A 30 point loss was the result, but the bigger problem was that we had no coach…or coaching staff.

Now we are back where we were before the Bruce Pearl Era. A search for some coach who has had success in a place we’ve never heard of, but will also Jan 24, 2012; Nashville,TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin during the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee 65-47. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIREaccept the challenge of coaching a big program. The athletic department was able to find a former Purdue standout who focuses on discipline and defense. He goes by the first name of Cuonzo. Coach Cuonzo Martin had never been thought of to come to Rocky Top, but he ended up here. He impressed me with his press conferences and that he was a no nonsense kind of coach. That is exactly what we need after having a coach who let the players do whatever they wanted on the court. Structure is the best way to recover and Coach Martin knows structure. This man has a backbone and it shows. The wins have not yet been produced, but a young mix of players who have yet to gel and adapt to his new style is holding him back. I feel that once he gets the program under his full control then Tennessee Basketball will be a threat once again.

Don’t fret to support him Vol fans, he is a stand up guy who has big time plying experience.  Coach Martin is not as animated on the sideline but that also means that he won’t make himself look like a fool, or get technicals for screaming at the officials. I am proudly on his side and I’m also optimistic about Big Orange Basketball in the years to come. I also urge the Volunteer nation to come to home games as well. When ESPN is generous enough to come to Thompson-Boling Arena it helps to have sellout crowds. It makes me sick to see those black empty seats in chunks throughout the upper deck. Likewise, it makes me sad to see Vol fans doubt any of our coaches. So stay true to Tennessee Basketball, embrace the new times and stick out the bad. You should be able to witness something great here on Rocky Top with Coach Martin. And, as always, stay faithful in the program, don’t ride bandwagons, be a Vol for Life, and Go Big Orange.