Pearl to earn $800,000 per year with 5-year deal

Updated: March 29, 2005, 9:16 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Bruce Pearl, who led Wisconsin-Milwaukee on a surprising run through the NCAA tournament, was introduced Monday as Tennessee's new basketball coach.

 Bruce Pearl
Pearl

"This is a dream come true," the 45-year-old Pearl said after becoming Tennessee's sixth coach in 16 years. "I feel like I am prepared."

Pearl took 12th-seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the round of 16 this year for the first time in the program's 109-year history.

Tennessee failed to make the NCAA Tournament in four years under coach Buzz Peterson, fired March 13 after a 14-17 season.

"I have complete confidence that he will take our program to the next level," university president John Petersen said of Pearl, whose career mark is 317-84.

Tennessee gave Pearl a five-year contract that will pay him $800,000 a year plus bonuses. Pearl made between $275,000 and $300,000 in base salary at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The Vols also must pay Wisconsin-Milwaukee a $194,000 buyout of Pearl's contract.

"I am going to work every day trying to reward you for this decision," Pearl said, vowing to bring a defense-driven, fast-break style of play to the SEC that "hasn't been seen in a long time."

Wisconsin-Milwaukee athletic director Bud Haidet was disappointed Pearl was leaving, but said the departure didn't come as a total surprise.

"Success is always a double-edged sword in our business," Haidet said.

Pearl wants the Tennessee men play up to the reputation of the university's other nationally ranked programs, notably the football team and the women's basketball program.

"It's time for us to hold our end up," Pearl said, with football coach Phillip Fulmer looking on.

Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt, whose name often comes up as a candidate to be the men's coach, said she has heard "great things" about Pearl.

Pearl huddled with Tennessee players Monday before the official announcement. Players said they liked what they heard.

"I feel a lot better, that we have a coach and he wants to play the style of play that I like to play," junior guard C.J. Watson.

Freshman guard Chris Lofton, a former Kentucky Mr. Basketball considered the most likely player to transfer because of the coaching change, said he's staying.

"I just thought I didn't want to leave the Vols," he said.

Pearl spent nine years at Division II Southern Indiana and won the national championship there in 1995.

"He is a proven, nationally recognized winner," Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said. "His teams are disciplined, mentally tough and exciting to watch."

Pearl also has been involved in controversy.

Fifteen years ago, as an assistant coach at Iowa, he secretly taped a phone call to an Illinois recruit. He gave that tape to the NCAA, touching off a 16-month investigation that resulted in Illinois being banned from the postseason in 1991.

Illinois fans loudly booed Pearl when Wisconsin-Milwaukee played the Illini in the semifinals of the Chicago Regional last week. Top-ranked Illinois won 77-63.

Petersen and Hamilton said they were comfortable with Pearl's whistleblowing past, comparing it to Fulmer's involvement in reporting to the NCAA recruiting irregularities in the Alabama football program.

"I think some of these guys get enormously frustrated when they are trying to run a clean program," Petersen said. "I respect them for standing up and saying this is not the right way to do it."

Pearl, who visited Knoxville on Saturday to tour the campus and meet school officials, was endorsed by former Tennessee All-American Ernie Grunfeld, now president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. Grunfeld got to know Pearl when he was general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Pearl is bringing two aides from Wisconsin-Milwaukee: associate head coach Tony Jones and assistant Jason Shay.

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