Bruce Pearl to The D-League Would Be a Big Mistake
Over the last couple weeks, the college sports world has been fascinated by the possibility that former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl could ending up coaching in the NBA Developmental League. Could a top-tier college basketball coach really end up coaching in the minor leagues of pro basketball? Not if he’s wise. - Jim Weber
Look, I get it.
Bruce Pearl desperately wants to get back into coaching college basketball and knows he will be out of the game for at least one season.
In the meantime, he wants to show that he’ll literally do anything to get back into college hoops and also stay relevant by popping up in the news from time to time. This way, he won’t fall off the face of the earth in the eyes of athletic directors.
And so far, it’s worked to perfection. The sports world has become fascinated with the possibility that a two-time SEC Coach of the Year would be willing to coach in the D-League. From the coverage Pearl has received - including national headlines and an appearance on “Pardon the Interruption” last week - you would think he was mulling over a coaching offer by the Los Angeles Lakers, not the Texas Legends.
But in the long run, I think this move would be a mistake by Pearl. He doesn’t appear to realize what he’s getting himself into if there is in fact an NBDL season.
Yes, he’s in the news now while considering an offer from the Legends. But there won’t be headline stories or “PTI” interviews when the team travels to Hidalgo, TX, for a game with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. And if you think the NBA season is long and lifeless, imagine what a 50-game schedule in the D-League is like inside empty arenas with players who are constantly being shuffled back and forth to the NBA or deciding to play overseas for more money.
Are you of the opion egos in college basketball are have gone through the roof? Wait until Pearl gets a load of NBDL players that think the D-League is below them and think they deserve to be NBA All-Stars. Pearl won’t need to look long to find one, as the Legends’ own Rashad McCants told me earlier this year he believes he is better than 95% percent of those in the NBA. Come to think of it, coaching the poisonous McCants is reason alone to pass on the Legends gig.
As for Pearl’s claim that being an NBDL coach gives him an opportunity to “become better,” let’s see how he feels after being part of a defense-optional contest in which the Legends prevail, 125-124. No one seems to care about winning in the D-League, all players seem to focus on is inflating their stats to catch the eye of NBA general managers.
And the league doesn’t exactly have a great track record as a stepping stone for coaches to get back into the college game. Baylor’s Dave Bliss eventually headed to the D-League’s Dakota Wizards after covering up the death of Patrick Dennehy in 2003. He’s now coaching high school basketball in Texas.
Or how about Quin Snyder? Yes, he just got an assistant job with the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s only after three years of coaching in the D-League. Pearl could probably could an NBA assistant job right now like Kelvin Sampson did.
And then there’s former DePaul coach Joey Meyer. He was axed in Chicago in 1997 and Meyer has spent over a decade coaching in the D-League, currently for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
As for Pearl, after being fired this spring, many expected him to go into television for a couple years. And it seems like a natural fit for a high-energy guy that is well-spoken and has never seen a camera he didn’t like.
So why isn’t Pearl already under contract at somewhere like ESPN?
He stated on “PTI” that television executives are luke-warm about hiring him until the NCAA weighs in on sanctions against him, which may include an infamous “show clause” in which any school that hires him must demonstrate good reasons for bringing him on board.
Pearl’s probably going crazy right now with nothing to do, but he should stay patient.
Former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach, who brought a lot more baggage and scandal with him last year after being fired in Lubbock, was snatched up by the CBS Sports Network and was the lead color analyst for the network last fall.
How about Marv Albert? The legendary broadcaster was fired by NBC in 1997 for misdemeanor assault charges in a sex case and suffered public humiliation for allegedly biting a woman in the back and faxing a picture of him wearing women’s underwear. Albert was rehired less than two years later by the Peacock.
Going outside of sports, check out Eliot Spitzer. The disgraced former governor of New York left office in 2008 after being implicated in a prostitution ring. Just over two years later, Spitzer had his own show on CNN (it has since been scandal).
Needless to say, recruiting violations and lying to the NCAA aren’t nearly as serious.
And being a college basketball color and studio analyst, especially for ESPN, has huge rewards.
After Steve Lavin was fired at UCLA in 2003, he latched on at ESPN and did a great job displaying his basketball knowledge and charm while on air. The result? In such a high-profile position, Lavin was annually linked to top college basketball jobs as people treated Lavin as if he were John Wooden, not someone who finished his time in Westwood by leading the Bruins to their first losing record in over 50 years and was run out of town.
Fran Fraschilla is another example. The universally well-like Fraschilla is another coach-turned-analyst who is always asked about a return the bench, as supporters point out that he is the same guy who recruited Ron Artest to St. John’s and was on the verge of greatness before he was fired by the Johnnies. Of course, this leaves out the fact Fraschilla was fired under mysterious circumstances in Queens and was fired after just three seasons with New Mexico for a lack of results.
Or how about Mark Jackson? Despite having absolutely no coaching experience, Jackson was always listed as one of the best candidates for NBA openings each offseason because of his work with ABC and ESPN and just landed a gig with the Golden State Warriors.
You can bet that if Pearl was a part of ESPN’s college basketball coverage and viewers saw the charisma and charm he always displays, people will keep wondering aloud how such a great coach isn’t in the game.
If ESPN doesn’t want him, you can bet CBS Sports Network will. While he won’t be seen on a national level for most of the year (Quick: Name what channel CBS Sports Net is on! That’s what I thought.), he would fit right into CBS’ NCAA tournament coverage that spans over several different channels and seems to be favoring style over substance, as evidenced by the bizarre additions of Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley to the studio team.
You can’t tell me there isn’t room in that studio for Pearl to ham it up and pull out shenanigans like body painting himself. And it would just-so-happen to come at a time in the year when dozens of programs are unloading their coaches and looking for high-profile candidates to immediately return the basketball team to respectability like Pearl did in Knoxville.
Who knows? By this time next year, Pearl might just be a college head coach again. That is, if he plays his cards right.
Jim Weber is the president and founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each Monday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.