Coach and Athletic Director magazine has an extensive interview with Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl. A couple of highlights:
On the impact coaches have had on his life: "I can name every coach I ever played for growing up. I can tell you every little team, every youth basketball team, and every traveling team.
The point I am trying to make is they make a difference. You know, their patience, and their abilities to teach and communicate, and to care and inspire. And command some discipline without living completely vicariously through the winning and losing of a child. Those coaches, in youth activities and, of course, all the way through high school, had a profound impact on my career."
On working for Dr. Tom Davis at Boston College, Stanford, and Iowa: "I walked on the men’s basketball team at Boston College and shortly there after got cut. I wasn’t good enough because of my knee. But I stayed on in other capacities. I was the basketball manager and the director of student promotions.
By the time I was a senior, I was a student assistant coach. I took on a lot of tasks for Dr. Tom Davis. And I was a part-time practice player on the road when we needed an extra body. I think the biggest thing about my experience at Boston College was — I did graduate cum laude, majoring in marketing and economics — if there is ever a time to be poor it’s when you’re young, and there is such thing as a starving student.
I interned and volunteered and just got involved with so many things at BC, most of them involving athletes. I paid a lot of dues by the time I was 22. I encourage a lot of young people to do the same thing. When I graduated from BC in 1982, Tom Davis was leaving to take the job at Stanford and he took me with him."
On his passion for coaching: " When I was in high school I coached youth basketball and football. And I umpired and I refereed — and some people think I still referee. I was always involved in coaching during high school and even in college.
It was never a thought of mine until Tom Davis offered me a job when I was 22-years old to go with him as an assistant coach at Stanford. I had never done anything in athletics to try to prepare myself to be a coach. I was doing it because I loved it. I never dreamed of being a coach. Yet my first job out of college was that job at Stanford and that’s all I have done since. So in a way, if you go back to when I was almost in middle school, I have been coaching my whole life."
On former BC, Stanford, and Iowa coach Tom Davis: "He is my mentor. If you’re any good at anything chances are you had a good teacher. And I had one of the best teachers the game had to offer: Dr. Tom Davis (pictured at left).
I learned so much. I learned a whole system of basketball. I also learned patience and how to motivate. You got better when you went to play with him. Tom didn’t always recruit the best talent but he recruited enough. He wasn’t afraid to take a guy who a lot of people said wasn’t athletic enough."
On the value he added as a young coach: "I just think I brought a level of intensity to practice every single day. I had an expectation for the players that was beyond what they had for themselves. I had to make up for what I lacked in not being able to play the game at the high level.
So I made up for it with my work ethic and my intensity. And I jumped in with both feet. I tried to complement what Tom needed. Tom wasn’t a yeller or a screamer. He was a teacher. There were a lot of times, as an assistant coach, that I was the bad guy."
On taking ownership as an assistant: "Tom had a way of making me feel those were my teams also. I wasn’t working for him, I was working for myself. He gave me ownership. And I was held accountable when we lost games to teams I scouted or when I made mistakes in helping prepare the team. We won some games that we did a good job in as well. But I took the losses very hard and celebrated the wins just as hard. Tom had a great way of making everybody take ownership."
On why he left Southern Indiana after nine seasons as head coach: "I finally left Southern Indiana because my whole deal is to encourage my players to be the best that they can be. And I realized at the end of my ninth season there that I was settling. That I wasn’t being the best I could be. I did not want to ever sit on my front porch from wherever I retire from this game and wonder if I could have done it at the highest level. That’s why I left, because I wasn’t living the life I was asking my players to try to live."
On taking over at a new job: "When you come into a new program, you are being evaluated by your players. And my guys were well coached. They hadn’t had a winning season in two years but those kids were well coached. And so, I had to be at the top of my game to win them over. While [the previous coach] got them to be competitive, they still didn’t know how to win."
On how his assistants help develop young players: "Tom Davis did not always get the best players but people knew that those guys got better. And I learned as an assistant coach that it took time in the gym and individual workouts. I have assistant coaches who know how to teach the game and they are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get in there. [My assistant coaches] put a lot of time in the gym emphasized on individual workouts."
On Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt: "Pat is an amazing woman. She is the best mother to her son Tyler and she is the best mother, friend, and coach to her players. She’s got more people into college basketball coaching the women’s game. It’s countless the number of former players and managers and coaches.
She is extremely organized, always prepared. And she stays on top the game because she listens and she asks questions and she brings in other minds. She studies international basketball and professional basketball. I have never met anybody as accomplished who is also as hungry. You’d think she had never won one championship, let alone eight."
On the difference between being liked and being respected: "Billy Donovan’s dominated this league. I don’t think Billy Donovan is anybody’s favorite coach outside of Florida. He’s done it because he’s beaten everybody. You can’t find a better coach. Billy Donavon is at the head of our profession and I have tremendous respect for him. I think our fans have great respect for Billy Donovan. Whether they like him or not, it doesn’t matter — it doesn’t matter to Billy. And so that’s my point; I don’t care if they like me. I want my fans to like me. It would be great if they could respect what we’re doing."
On his coaching philosophy: "I have been a head coach for 16 years or whatever it’s been. My teams have led the league in scoring for 15 out of 16 years, including three straight years in the SEC. It’s a system that’s very committed, up-tempo basketball. We create possessions with turning people over through our pressure defense, both in the full court and the drop-back.
When you press and you attack, even if you are not the more talented team, the other team can’t sit back on their heels. I think kids like to play that way. I know I like to coach that way. And I think that fans like to watch that kind of game.
Logic would dictate that when you have less talent — hold the ball, be patient, and be conservative — it sends your kids a big fat message that they are no good and that the other team is better. The key is being willing to run and press, and yet be able to mix in good patience, both offensively and defensively. Ball-control coaches at all levels are somehow deemed to be better coaches than your Jerry Tarkanians and your Paul Westheads."
On the keys to team success: "It is defense and rebounding that wins championships. The Boston Celtics proved that. You look at the teams that got to the Final Four. Ultimately that’s a huge part. You look at where Kansas finished in the Big 12 in defense and you’ll see why they won a national championship.
First of all, I am not a great defensive coach. But I will tell you the teams I had that won championships with made the decision to defend. Kids want to win. My philosophy defensively is not to be on the defensive. The word being defensive is to step back and react to the way the offense moves. I want to dictate. I want to take the stuff away that you like to do and make you beat me a different way."
On develop relationships with his players: "Players don’t care what you know until they know how much you care. I think the only way you can demonstrate that is with your time and your tough love. I think if you do those things, kids are going to appreciate it and they are going to put up with you when you tell them this is what you got to do because it’s best for you. They will trust that I am doing this because it’s best for them."
His advice for assistant coaches: "I think as an assistant, you want to have a certain dimension and bring something to the table that your head coach can utilize. Guys get hired out of jobs that are winning. Choose your head coach wisely, assistants. Don’t get in the game or don’t move within the game unless you think your guy is going to win because that is the only chance you’ll have with the opportunity to move."
Assistant coaches, don’t try to be me. Be yourself. Allow your own personality to be brought to the court. Choose wisely what you’re teaching and how you’re teaching it. It’s not what you teach; it’s how you teach it. Make sure it’s a system that fits. Make sure it flows."