I’ve been a Vol fan for a long, long time — over 45 years. As such, I’ve seen some amazing Vol moments. But one happened this weekend that deserves some recognition, some attention. In fact, it’s almost unprecedented. You ready? Here’s the first part:
Bruce Pearl’s Vol team won 20 games for the fifth year in a row.
I know, I know — here in the land of Big Red and Big Blue, no one gets excited until it’s time to hang a banner. A 20-win season is the minimum that’s expected. But at UT, where men’s basketball has traditionally been the 3rd most important sport (behind football and women’s basketball), those 20-win seasons have been few and far between. Five in a row? Only Don Devoe did it before now.
But here’s the real record-setting second part:
Pearl’s five 20-win seasons have also included double-digit wins in the SEC.
That’s right — even during the Ray Mears era, even during Don Devoe’s reign, no Tennessee men’s basketball coach has combined 20-win seasons with 10 wins or more in the SEC for five years in a row — until Bruce Pearl. Here’s the year-by-year records so you can see for yourself.
Ray Mears had some great years — they won the SEC in 1967, 1972, and 1977. Every year from ’65 to ’77 he had double-digit SEC wins. BUT, they couldn’t string together five consecutive 20-win seasons because they’d throw a clunker in there every so often.
Don Devoe started out gang-busters — solid overall records, including 20-win seasons from ’81 to ’85 (five in a row). But, even while knocking out those 20 wins, from ’83 on they couldn’t go better than 4th in the SEC.
Jerry Green looked like a world-beater his first three years — won the SEC twice, had four 20-win seasons in a row. But that last season was the famous Second Half Collapse, where the Vols won 15 straight and then went 6 and 11 down the stretch and lost in the first round of the NCAAs. Goodbye, Jerry.
Bruce Pearl has taken a program that most figured would be lucky to win 20, and has made it a consistent 20-game winner. In addition, he has competed in the SEC, and competed strongly. Even in the midst of a crazy year, he is turning in one of his best coaching jobs ever, and the team is on track to do it again.
Five 20-win seasons in Knoxville is truly an accomplishment. Competing strongly in the SEC is truly an accomplishment. If the Vols can break through and win some in the NCAA, this will be a great year for the team and for Pearl.