Temporary Like Achilles
Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War, was invulnerable in all of his body except for his heel – he died because of a small wound there.
Ah, yes, those deadly weak spots we all have.
Bruce Pearl brought a lot to the table. First and foremost, he was an excellent basketball coach in many respects, especially via his ability to motivate players. He was the energy that Tennessee desperately needed six years ago. But that is not all he will be remembered for.
It was his exuberant personality that will etch his memory into the Vol faithful for a generation to come. He was bigger than life to many. He seemed bigger than his surroundings. He was Tennessee men’s basketball.
He wasn’t your run-of-the-mill exuberant coach. He transcended exuberance.
It is what made him so popular.
And, it is what brought him down.
The over-the-top-ness of Bruce Pearl made him lovable, even childlike at times. He bared his orange belly not only to endear himself, but to have fun for himself. He resurrected the Orange Blazer that so many of us old folks remember the Mears years with great fondness. He couldn’t help himself as he strutted up and down the sidelines like a flaming orange peacock, not just to instill pride in his team and Vol fans, but also seemingly to piss off the opponents and their fans.
You couldn’t help but love him.
His teams reflected his personality. At their very best, the basketball Vols were so energetic you thought they might just spontaneously combust right there on the hardwood. But they, too, suffered from uber-exuberance some of the time. I can’t count high enough to recall the number of times I saw a Tennessee fast break turn to ashes because the players couldn’t ease off the gas pedal just at the right time, with the right measure of panache, to make just enough space to get off an unobstructed shot. It seemed like they thought a fast break was an opportunity to show how fast one could sprint in order to bull-rush the opponent at the finish line. I’ve always thought that it was that lack of physical discipline that kept us from basketball immortality.
With his boundless energy, Pearl seemed to have no room for the subtle, the detail, the particular, the self-awareness. Rules and regulations. He teetered on their boundaries. But, it is more likely that if he gave too much awareness to them, and followed them to the letter, that his enthusiasm would be punctured. Perhaps he was afraid such restraint would be a self-immolation of sorts that would take the very life out of him.
And then there was the lying. Perhaps it more of the innocent type of truthlessness – that which manifests when one is so consumed with whatever, there isn’t time or space to be cold and calculating in one’s failings. Things are moving too fast for clear thinking.
The firing of Bruce Pearl was like a death in the family, even when you know he had a very long crumb-trail of indiscretion, even when you know that he just had to be let go. He meant so much to so many that his replacement will have to be a saint and a winner to ultimately be accepted by the Vol fan base that feels they’ve been cheated somehow.
It makes me think about Derek Dooley. He hasn’t been around long enough for us to really know him. I hope that he stays around that long, because that will mean he will be successful in terms of wins and losses. But, he, too, has character flaws. We don’t yet know what they are. But they are there, because we all have them.
No one is perfect, even Achilles.