I said in January that I missed Bruce Pearl. I still do. The Tennessee games just weren’t the same with Cuonzo Martin on the bench. As annoying, abrasive, and unabashedly corny as Pearl was, he was good for the SEC up until, you know, he lied to everybody about everything.
If Bruce Pearl is nothing else, he’s entertaining. Sometimes in a genuine, interesting way; other times in a train-wreck, Jersey Shore, I-want-to-look-away-but-can’t fashion. But he was always his big, goofy self, and that personality gave UT something to rally behind. I’m glad they lost to us almost all the time, but still, it was good for them to have that figurehead. Now that he’s headed to ESPN, I think he might have found a job that lets that personality take center stage, and I actually think he’ll be pretty good at it.
But as he starts this next part of his career, I want to let him know that if there’s one thing I want to see again in Rupp, it’s that stupid orange jacket. To be clear, I think that jacket looks terrible. It’s tacky, ostentatious, and generally just looks awful. But I always appreciated that he wore it against Kentucky, because it set us apart. If you’ve forgotten, Pearl would break out the monstrosity only against UK and Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, of course, because they’re the in-state rivals. Makes sense. But why did Kentucky merit the “jacket treatment”? Well, because we’re Kentucky.
In accordance with Calipari’s claims that his team “gets everyone’s best shot,” the orange jacket always signified that the Kentucky game meant more to Tennessee than other games. It was a tangible reminder that the Wildcats are never just “another game” on the schedule. The coaches knew it, the players knew it, and the puke-inside-the-pumpkin orange jacket showcased it.
So in addition to bringing whatever basketball insight he’s retained after working with the grocery store, I hope Bruce brings just a small part of his wardrobe ESPN. I don’t want to see it all the time; I might punch my TV screen if he wore it for every game. But if you’re reading this, Pearl, know that at least one person thinks it’d be okay to throw on for the Kentucky game. You know, for old time’s sake. As Matt pointed out in the night post, two guys that Kentucky fans have (rightfully) hated for years are now starting to come back around. Christian Laettner’s participation in the Legends/Villains game was nothing but good sportsmanship, and the Anthony Davis foot stomp picture was hilarious (even though Anthony Davis wasn’t even born when that happened). And now Bruce Pearl has the opportunity to be a part of college basketball again, this time as a personality instead of a coach. In spite of their former rivalry, I think he’ll be the first to praise the things Calipari and Kentucky have accomplished; those grudges, if they ever existed between them, are probably gone. So, welcome back to the NCAA Bruce Pearl. I’ve missed you, big dog.
PS. Those of you who still hate Bruce Pearl, keep in mind that it could be worse. Could be bobby knight.