Epps: Manic Pearl stays calm as Vols trail

Epps: Manic Pearl stays calm as Vols trail

January 11th, 2009 by Darren Epps in Opinion Columns

ATHENS, Ga. - This was going to be a story about Bruce Pearl's sideline antics, his shouts from the bench, his facial expressions following a bad call. And there were certainly some entertaining moments.

Our media seats for Saturday's game at Georgia were almost on the Tennessee bench, which meant you might get a sweaty towel from Coach Pearl after he wiped his face. It seemed like a good time to spend two hours watching the man work during the Volunteers' 86-77 win.

Pearl paces the sideline like someone performing those defensive drills in high school, where you shuffle your feet from side to side. He encloses his right wrist with his left hand, as if his hands are tied behind his back, and contorts his body like he's guarding the ball-handler.

He never stops moving. During one break, he took one player's towel, wiped his sweaty face with it and gave it to another player. There was no time to wait for a fresh towel from behind the bench. He had more screaming, pacing, counseling to accomplish.

As the Vols built a quick 11-point lead and controlled most of the first half, Pearl's histrionics merely gained momentum. He glared at Josh Tabb following a turnover and asked him, exactly, what he was doing. He really unloaded on Renaldo Woolridge before a timeout, screaming, "You jogged the whole way back!"

A lack of effort seems to be the best way to incite Pearl.

"You nailed it," Pearl said after the game. "That's something a player can control, so when I see that, I lose it."

But, no, this story is about Pearl's behavior when Tennessee fell behind by 10 points in the second half. I was waiting to write down every exclamation, describe every tantrum, portray every disgusted face. And I waited. And waited.

Nothing. Pearl yelled only to call a play. He stopped moving around. For the first time, I studied a completely calm, serene Bruce Pearl. It was a little unsettling. He did not even call time out.

"Why call time out and give the crowd and them a chance to celebrate and feel good?" Pearl said. "I'd rather get Tyler (Smith) the ball. We're down eight now (after Smith's assist to Brian Williams) and we're not going anywhere.

"One of the things that has allowed us to win and win big is when you're winning, I can get on you and stay on you. And I can never let them be satisfied. And because we're winning, they'll take it. When you're losing, I think you've got to get off of them."

You often hear of coaches holding midnight practices or four-hour workouts after disappointing performances. Following consecutive losses to Kansas and Gonzaga, Pearl didn't give his five starters any live work Thursday. The team didn't practice live at all Friday.

"When you're losing, less is more," Pearl said. "I had to get off of them. I'm more intense at home than on the road. On the road, you've got to try to stay calm."

The Vols outscored Georgia 42-20 in a span of just more than 12 minutes to secure a win in the conference opener. Yeah, 42 points in 12 minutes. Bobby Maze made a poor pass with 7:58 remaining, much like Tabb did in the first half; only this time Pearl calmly said, "That's all right."

"The way he coaches is perfect," said Smith, who performed brilliantly on a bad knee with 24 points and 11 rebounds. "When we're down, we're not getting yelled at as much. When we're up, we are because he wants us to keep playing better, don't let up, don't play to the scoreboard.

"He'll take your towel while you're wiping your face. He works out with us, too, and that makes me want to work hard for him. Because he works just like us. He's a player/coach. Or a coach/player, however you want to put it."

Pearl gets worn out coaching a game, he said, and he will be sore in the morning.

"I am sore. I'm sore because I have bad knees," Pearl said. "I'm a candidate for a knee replacement, and when I get one, I hope it really enhances the last however many years I've got left. I'm sore. But it's a good sore when you're winning."