Pick My Post: Bruce Pearl

Jan 24, 2022

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I have these two Google Docs where I'm writing these two longform articles (might be newsletters, might show up here, might just be scuttled) and they're consuming my brain so I need a break. I put a Pick My Post call out on Twitter and this is the request I've chosen:

Per the PMP rules, I'll try to do this in 45 minutes. Actually, I have 39 minutes until a podcast interview, so I'll try to do this in 39 minutes.

First off, if you want all of the background on Pearl, this is a very good article. It covers everything from the Deon Thomas incident to what happened at Tennessee to what happened at Auburn. If you want the background on all of it, just go read that.

This specific question here said "remind us why we don't like him". So I won't go into deep detail (just read that article) and I'll stay on the surface. I mean, I only have 36 minutes left and I wouldn't have time for deep detail.

And I probably won't answer it like you think I'm going to answer it. Yes, I've always claimed that Bruce Pearl Ruined My College Experience because he did, in fact, ruin my college experience. Illini basketball from 1986 to 1990 - 4-seed, 3-seed, 3-seed, 1-seed, 5-seed. The next five years: no tournament (tourney ban), no tournament (losing record), 6-seed, 8-seed, 11-seed. And then the NIT in 1996.

The tourney ban was because of the Deon Thomas incident (again, read about it in the link above). And the rest was mostly on Bruce Pearl as well. It was the Lack Of Institutional Control that led to these sanctions, but the LOIC doesn't come down if Bruce Pearl doesn't go to the NCAA. Auburn fans will call him a simple whistleblower, Illini fans will call him… something else. But the fact remains that the reason I only saw one NCAA Tournament win in my five years in school was Bruce Pearl sending that stuff to the NCAA which kicked off the whole terrible ordeal.

He was "banished" for that - the coaching community didn't take too kindly to one coach, bitter that he lost out on a recruit, secretly recording conversations in order to turn in a rival. Probably still wouldn't today. So he was banished to the far corners of college basketball and had to build his way back from nowhere by winning at a Division II school before finally getting a second chance at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Personally, I was bitter that he wasn't banished for life, but looking back now, had he changed his ways, I probably would have accepted him by now. I could have reached a point where I could stomach him. But the last 20 years have not turned out that way.

And I don't just mean the cheating scandal at Tennessee and the cheating scandal at Auburn. If I've learned one thing, it's that no college basketball fans should scream "cheater" too loudly. That's not an "everyone cheats" - it's more, well, actually this one is fairly easy. Bruce Pearl was the head coach when Chuck Person was wrapped up in the FBI investigation at Auburn. The head coach when Lamont Evans was wrapped up in the FBI investigation at Oklahoma State? Some guy named Brad Underwood. Both of the assistants had accepted bribes to steer players towards certain agents and financial advisors (it wasn't a recruiting scandal as much as it was a "this player might go to the NBA and since I'm close to him I can steer him to certain people for a small fee" scandal).

Yes, trouble seems to follow Pearl, from the Deon Thomas thing to getting his show-cause penalty at Tennessee to the NCAA Tournament ban at Auburn last year. So that alone is probably reason to dislike him. But it's not my answer here.

My answer is his act.

I'm a crier. I kid you not, I was listening to a song on the train to DC on Friday that reminds me of my middle son. It's a song about a dreamer, sometimes tied to reality but sometimes living in that dream world. And you really never want them to leave that dream world even though you know the world will smack them with reality. While listening to it, sitting by myself, I cried. I'm the softest softie on earth.

When Bret Bielema gets choked up talking about his girls, I IDENTIFY with that, man. Several times, as Bielema is talking, I sense the tears coming before they arrive. A crier knows a crier.

This is not a crier:

It's just not. I know that it is not. It's a very carefully scripted act. It's how you get the Auburn job after your show cause. You say "hey, I was just trying to do the right thing" in the Deon Thomas affair when you know full and well you were pissed off and trying to get Jimmy Collins fired.

You play a role to gain sympathy, you get people eating out of your hand, and you use that to win your next battle. There are many people who operate under those parameters. Some were even related to me. So I feel like I can spot it from miles away.

Three minutes left. A closer:

"Remind us all why we don't like him?" It's his act. He's manipulating you. He knows it, and I know it. He's been involved in scandals nearly everywhere he goes yet he works on his act in his basement and then he performs in front of a live audience.

Many think it's great. "So real, so emotional!" I don't enjoy it. To me, it's 100% an act.

"The only mistake I made at Tennessee was…"

"If I'm guilty of anything it's…"

Not buying it. Be real and we can talk. Be (waves arms) all of THAT and I don't believe you've changed an ounce from 1989 until today.

Which was when, if I may, you ruined my college experience.


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