Basketball: 22-8 (12-4)
*SEC East Champions; NCAA Tournament 2nd Round
Football: 5-6 (3-5)
The foundation for this hire all started in March of 2005. Mike Hamilton fired Buzz Peterson after four years of mediocrity and a 13-16 campaign his final year and hired a coach with no SEC ties, Bruce Pearl, to breath life into the program.
However, Pearl lost Peterson’s two commitments and a player to transfer when taking over. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Vols football team won the SEC East in 2004 and returned all but one starter on defense and all but two starters on offense.
As a result, heading into the year, with Phillip Fulmer as the dean of SEC football coaches, the Vols were No. 3 in preseason in football and picked to finish next to last in the SEC East in men’s basketball. The roles shockingly reversed.
Numerous offseason arrests, a quarterback carousel between Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen, and out of shape offensive linemen resulted in one of the worst years ever on offense, wasting a great year on defense. Meanwhile, Pearl’s up-tempo system was a perfect fit for guys like CJ Watson and Chris Lofton.
One day after UT basketball would open its season, the Vols would suffer their first loss in 23 years to the Vanderbilt Commodores in football, which would result in them having a losing season and missing a bowl for the first time in 17 years. Meanwhile, men’s basketball took off.
An upset over the Texas Longhorns got things started. Then came SEC play, and UT swept the eventual national champion Florida Gators, beat the Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena, and won the East and made their way into the top 10 at one point with Lofton becoming an All-American.
Lack of depth caused them to sputter at the end of the year and be upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed. But on the heels of the most disappointing season ever for Tennessee football, Tennessee basketball had just gotten started.