Pearl loses shirt, gains publicity

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - First came the blinding orange blazer and then the sweat-drenched suit.

A shirtless Tennessee men's basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, yells in the student section before the Lady Vols played Duke on Monday. Pearl is trying to bring more attention to his program.  Associated Press
Associated Press
A shirtless Tennessee men's basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, yells in the student section before the Lady Vols played Duke on Monday. Pearl is trying to bring more attention to his program.

Now Tennessee's Bruce Pearl is into orange body paint.

The second-year coach went shirtless Monday at a Lady Vols' game with his torso painted orange and marked with a light blue "V" to help spell out "GO VOLS" with four players, including his son, and a team manager.

It's been an endless topic of conversation on TV, radio and the Internet, surprising Pearl with the amount of publicity it has generated.

Before the stunt, Pearl got the blessings of Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt and athletic director Mike Hamilton.

"Somebody said, 'Would Mike Krzyzewski do this?' or 'Would Dean Smith have done this?' No!" Hamilton said. "But they do things their way for the benefit of their program. This is how Bruce Pearl has chosen to promote his program by being who he is. This is who he is."

It helps that the Vols are a winning team, and fans enjoy the team's up-tempo style. Before Pearl was hired, Tennessee had five coaches since 1989.

The Vols were a surprise last season and won the Southeastern Conference East Division. They have struggled this season with a young team and star player Chris Lofton out with a sprained ankle, but ticket sales continue to increase.

Pearl has drawn in new fans, grabbing the attention of students by jumping up on chairs in campus cafeterias and encouraging them to come to games.

Before the body paint, his signature media moment was last season when he worked up so much sweat during a Florida game that it soaked his entire suit - again creating buzz all over television and the Internet.

Of course, Pearl isn't the first flamboyant college coach.

ESPN football commentator Lee Corso once rode an elephant during a circus parade to help sell tickets when he was head coach at Louisville. When Dale Brown was hired at LSU, he went around the state handing out purple and gold nets.

Pearl has resurrected some of the showmanship displayed by former Vols coach Ray Mears, who had a successful run from 1963-77.

Mears had a player ride a unicycle during pregame warmups, and he created an elaborate team introduction with players running out of a door in a big wooden T and a spotlight beaming down on them.

But have we seen too much of Pearl? Even he acknowledges some people might not have enjoyed the show.

"I put myself out there," Pearl said. "I don't blame people if they didn't appreciate it."

Pearl's wife, Kim, was among those leery of the idea.

"She was worried because some would say you're bringing attention to yourself and taking away from the Lady Vols," Pearl said. "Overall I didn't want to do that, but anytime anybody that looks like this paints yourself up, it's going to attract attention."

"I don't know how many coaches have the courage that Bruce has," Summitt said. "I don't know how many coaches would be that comfortable to paint their bodies and sit in the student section."

Most people seemed to have a sense of humor about it.

"Obviously he has a great relationship with Pat Summitt and their program, and that's a wonderful thing to see," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.

And then Smith stopped, laughed and backed away from that quote: "Not to see his body painted like that, but to see the excitement he has for Tennessee basketball."

Smith may want to bring his sunglasses today when his team plays host to the Vols. Yes, Pearl will be wearing the orange jacket.

He saves it for games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky, an idea that now seems tame, but was gutsy last season after the Vols' long struggles on the court. Tennessee was 3-1 in the orange-blazer games last year.

Hamilton will be among the Tennessee fans happy to see the blazing orange.

"As I go around the city and the state," he said, "I've been gratified by the number of people who have come up ... to say hello and thank you for bringing Bruce Pearl to Tennessee."


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