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Friday, March 22, 2013

Furman Should Go Out on a Limb with their Next Basketball Hire

Once again, Furman basketball is jumping on the coaching carousel.

After a rather forgettable 85-131 record over his career, Furman coach Jeff Jackson is stepping down. His career concluded with a horrible 7-24 this past season. Any hope for the season snapped on February 2, when the Paladins blew an 18-point second half lead to The Citadel.

Yes, that's right. 18-point lead. Against The Citadel. Still lost.

After that, the Paladins lost their last ten regular season games. In fact, they barely showed up prior to an upset win over Samford in the Southern Conference tournament. As much as I hate it for Jackson and his family, this ending looked more and more inevitable with every dismal performance.

Jackson is a brilliant man, a good basketball mind, and a mediocre promoter for a sport that hasn't had any enthusiasm in Greenville for years. This is not the 1970s, and a basketball coach at Furman has to be a promoter if there is going to be any development in the program. Students and fans have very little reason to show up, other than the unlimited food that comes with your ticket.

Yes, that's correct. Furman is so desperate to draw fans that they give away concessions in order to put people in the seats. That's a pretty good indication that the next basketball coach needs to have "showmanship" on their resume.

And that's exactly why Furman should hire Bruce Pearl.

Okay, so Pearl brings with him just a bit of baggage. As in a U-Haul full of it. If Furman hires him, they must allow sanctions levied against Pearl in 2011 to come along with him. This means that Pearl cannot recruit unless the athletic department decides to challenge the NCAA's rulings.

Well, so what? Pearl can recruit through his assistants. He can send game tape from his NCAA appearances with Milwaukee-Wisconsin and Tennessee. And after all, it would only be for one season. The only problem is that the restrictions may also keep the Paladins from participating in the NCAA tournament.

Once again, so what? Furman hasn't played in the NCAAs since 1980, and they're nowhere close to changing that right now. And, so what if he leaves after one or two seasons for a bigger program? That could be one or two better seasons than Furman has seen in decades.

The biggest thing that Bruce Pearl would bring is excitement and enthusiasm, something lacking since before the infamous Rich Cantafio Fiasco in the 1990s. He would bring fast-paced, high energy basketball to Timmons Arena. I can already see the sweat soaking through that purple sports coat.

Imagine the press conferences. Imagine the energy that he could generate in a student body that's lukewarm when their teams are winning. Can you imagine Pearl cooperating with energetic women's coach Jackie Smith Carson, as he did with Pat Summit at UT?

Obviously, there are plenty of potential issues with this. But it would be hard to imagine a more exciting, headline-grabbing, attention-getting and energy-generating hire than Pearl.

I clearly know that there is almost no chance for this to even be considered, even if it was possible. But at least it's "outside the box" for the typically conservative athletic department at Furman.

After 33 years of futility, maybe outside the box is exactly where Furman basketball needs to go. They won't go there with Pearl, but perhaps they'll go there with someone else. Unless the Paladins are willing to get a little unconventional, the only empty box around campus will be Timmons Arena.

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