September 23, 2014

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Reporter: Wes Boling

Tennessee hoops is bigger than one man

Regardless of what happens to Bruce Pearl, the Vols will eventually recover, in large part because Pearl helped make the UT job more desirable that it's ever been.

The Tennessee basketball program is bigger than one person.

Ironically, the person who made it that way is probably about to be fired.

But regardless of what happens to Bruce Pearl, the Vols will eventually recover, in large part because Pearl helped make the UT job more desirable that it's ever been.

Pearl proved that it's possible to recruit top prospects to Tennessee. He showed it's easy to galvanize the fan base behind the team. And most importantly, he demonstrated that the program can enjoy sustained success, leading the Vols to six NCAA tournaments in six seasons.

And now, he's likely headed out the Big Orange backdoor. But it's okay, Tennessee fans. Pearl is not the only coach who can win in Knoxville.

That's what Vol fans fear most about his departure. They're loyal to Pearl in part because they're terrified of a return to Buzzball, Houston hoops or a DeVoe downfall.

But they don't have to worry about that.

Sure, losing Pearl would cause short-term hardship for the Vols. Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson would almost certainly leave for the NBA. Top recruits Pearl invested in would likely look elsewhere. And some fans would harbor a grudge against the athletic department for the firing of the most successful coach in Tennessee hoops history.

But that success has raised UT's basketball stock higher than ever before, especially in the eyes of talented coaches looking for their next career step. An SEC job? Check. A place with rabid fan support? Bingo. Impeccable facilities? You got it. Appeal in recruiting? Yep.

Save for conference affiliation, Pearl helped make those things happen. So, while pundits solemnly banter about the controversial coach's legacy at Tennessee, let's keep in mind that it goes far beyond NCAA trouble. Sure, Pearl brought UT hoops to one of its worst depths in history. But only after raising it to its loftiest heights.

Pearl's legacy will last long into the next coach's tenure. And that's a very, very good thing.

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