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Pearl says he'll be on Rocky Top a "long, long time"

6:46 PM, Sep 17, 2010   |    comments
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Die hard Vol fans who traded in watching Bruce Pearl's hoops team drive to rim for a shot to drive to the flag with coach have heard the national talk.

Friday, Coach Pearl hosted his fifth annual Fore! The Kids Golf Classic at Gettysvue Country Club in West Knoxville.  

Since a press conference one week ago where Pearl admitted to initially lying to investigators about a possible recruiting violation, It seems each day another columnist or pundit is telling the University of Tennessee that Coach Pearl needs to be let go.

"There is a fear we could lose him and Tennessee basketball would go back to the depths that we were in the past," Travis Fuller, a Knoxville resident and UT basketball fan said.

Fuller says he hasn't missed a home game since 1990.  Back then UT hoops wasn't what it was today.  It's more than safe to say the past few years have been a new era in Knoxville.

"I remember, you could come in as a student and sit courtside anywhere you wanted to go and now as an alumni it is a challenge to get tickets in the lower level," Fuller said.

Since Pearl landed on Rocky Top, average home attendance is up 7,000 per game.

If you figure those extra fans at the lowest season ticket price available, Pearl is at least partially responsible for another $1.5 million in revenue every season.  That doesn't count things like additional endorsements, concessions, and other revenue that a higher-profile program would bring.

Tennessee won 14 games in 2004, the season before Pearl arrived.  Since then, they've averaged 25 wins a year and have made the NCAA tournament each year.

Those tournament runs mean even more revenue spilling into Knoxville.  According to the Southeastern Conference, NCAA Tournament teams put the money into a pot that goes to the entire conference, but those schools in the tournament and those who go the farthest, get a larger chunk.

The coach's contract calls for him to make just shy of $2 million in guaranteed money each season.  That's 12th highest in the country and a number that will shrink.  Athletic Director Mike Hamilton announced last week they will dock Pearl's pay $1.5 million next season.

"A lot of guys rally around him," Fuller said.

Like Fuller, most of the fans at Gettysvue Friday are still firmly in coach's corner.

"Speaking of support, there are times when you need it more than others. Being in a place like Tennessee, the outpouring has been heartfelt, genuine and very much appreciated," Bruce Pearl said.

As Pearl tees off with a group of fans he says the charity golf tournament will be back next season and he's not foreseeing any changes on the hardwood either.

"You know, I've heard the talk too.  I'm the basketball coach at Tennessee," Pearl said.  "I'm going to be the basketball coach at the University of Tennessee for a long, long time.  This is going to be a bump in the road, it's serious, but we're going to get through it."

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