Jan 31, 2015; Knoxville, TN, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena. (Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)

On the eve of his first game in Knoxville as the visiting coach, Bruce Pearl offered this prediction to the Knoxville News-Sentinel on how he’d be received by Tennessee fans. “Some will be booing and some will be Bru-ing,” he said. “I do not know which one it will be.” Turns out Pearl sold himself short because his reception from the Tennessee crowd on Saturday afternoon was almost entirely favorable. Vols fans either chanted “Bruuuuce” or stood and applauded when Pearl was introduced, though those in the building said t he cheers current Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall received were louder. Pearl was businesslike on the sideline during Tennessee’s 71-63 win, but it was clear the nostalgia factor affected him beforehand. He shook hands with old friends when he arrived at Thompson Boling Arena and high-fived Tennessee students on his way off the floor after warmups. Then as the public address announcer introduced him prior to tip-off, he bowed his head and kneeled in front of the Auburn bench, seemingly overcome by the emotion of the moment. Bruce Pearl takes a moment of reflection while being announced here. pic.twitter.com/YSsslm6vsR — Matt Slovin (@MattSlovin) January 31, 2015 It was no surprise Pearl received such a favorable reception in Knoxville considering what he accomplished during his tenure as Tennessee coach. In six seasons, Pearl energized a traditionally football-first fan base by leading Tennessee to six straight NCAA tournaments, ascending to No. 1 in the nation briefly in 2008 and reaching the Elite Eight in 2010. That success overshadows the sour ending to Pearl’s Tennessee tenure. Tennessee fired Pearl in March 2011 after it became clear he violated NCAA rules by having recruits at his house for a barbecue, lying to investigators about it and encouraging his staff to lie about it as well. Pearl’s return to Knoxville comes at a time when Tyndall is dealing with NCAA issues of his own that could eventually jeopardize his job at Tennessee. His old school, Southern Mississippi, announced earlier this month it is self-imposing a postseason ban on the basketball program as a result of alleged violations on Tyndall’s watch. That’s not Pearl’s problem anymore though. He’s an Auburn guy now, as reflected by the shirts worn by a handful of fans behind the Tigers bench Saturday. On the front , there was a picture of Pearl. On the back , the shirts read “I still bleed orange, it’s just burnt now.” – – – – – – – Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @JeffEisenberg

Leave a Reply