Bare-chested Billy? Don’t Expect It Anytime

You gotta love Bruce Pearl. Yeah, he’s the coach at Tennessee and yeah, they’re right up there a notch below Kentucky among the teams you love to see the Florida Gators beat in basketball, but The Sultan of Sweat outdid himself Tuesday night when he ripped off the shirt, put on a black headband, got spray painted in creamsicle orange with a big V on the chest to cheer on the Lady Vols.

There he was on the front row the students, bare-chested, yelling his lungs out for Tennessee in one of the biggest women’s basketball games of the season. Pat Summitt walked over and gave him a kiss. From start to finish, Pearl was one of the rowdies in the student section and by game’s end, he couldn’t speak.

The fans loved it and even though the Lady Vols lost to Duke, Pearl further cemented himself as a folk hero on a campus that keeps believing that Phil Fulmer will one day sprout a personality. Fulmer is plain old Vanilla. Bruce Pearl? He’s every color in the Sherwin-Williams rainbow thrown against a wall canvas.

It’s not the kind of stunt you would expect out of someone that makes close to $2 million a year but up in Tennessee, where football rules the roost by a wide margin and where Phil Fulmer’s starting to feel some heat, Pearl is a breath of fresh air. He’s infused energy into the Vols basketball program and he’s won over the fans so well that Thompson-Bolling Arena no longer has a catacomb feel to it.

At Tennessee a hairy but bare-chested Bruce Pearl in the stands with a big V on his chest might be the next really big thing. At Florida? Well, don’t expect Billy Donovan to mimic his colleage to the north anytime soon. Donovan is already a campus legend and you can’t imagine him in anything but some kind of Florida shirt or else an Armani suit. That’s his style.

Asked if he could see a day when he would go bare-chested, sporting a head band and wearing a big F on his chest at a Florida sporting event, Donovan shook his head and smiled.

“Probably not,” said Donovan Thursday afternoon. “I heard about it but I didn’t see it. You better check with Jeremy Foley to see if he would allow me to do it.”

Pressed to see if he thought it might be cool to try it just once, Donovan responded with a grin, “It’s probably not me.”

Which is a good thing, according to junior forward Corey Brewer.

“Coach would never do anything like that,” said Brewer. “Coach is a little too hairy for that.”

Senior Chris Richard, who’s been with Donovan a full four years says he could imagine Donovan doing a lot of things, but going bare-chested with an F on his chest might be stretching it a bit too far.

“Now I wish we could see something like that,” Richard said. “Coach might amaze you with some of the things he might do but I don’t think it would ever come down to something like that.

“I think Coach (Larry) Shyatt might, though. I could see him with an F on his chest, but Coach Donovan? No way. Coach Shyatt could. Maybe he should!”

Junior point guard Taurean Green thought Donovan bare-chested with the fans might be a little over the top, but he added, “now that would be interesting.”

As for Pearl, Green just shook his head and said, “That’s Coach Pearl … that’s his personality.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.