Even Bruce Pearl wondered what he could say about principles, especially after his last job ended due to his failure to tell the truth. It turns out the former University of Tennessee basketball coach has plenty of principles and his knowledge on the subject was shared Monday at the Bridgestone Learning Center.
Pearl was the guest speaker at the Principle Centered Leadership Conference held for Bridgestone employees, while the Warren County High School girls basketball team was also in attendance. Pearl spoke with remorse about his past, offered insight to how coaching prepared him for his present position as vice president of H.T. Hackney Company and gave advice for the future to the Lady Pioneers who listened intently in the crowd.
Known locally for his six-year career as the leader of the Vols, which coincided with the best stretch of success in the program’s history, Pearl acknowledged at the forefront his firing after an investigation concluded he lied during an interview with NCAA officials. Pearl, who can now be seen on ESPN as a basketball analyst, has learned his lesson from the experience and has worked to move on with his career.
“It was a humbling experience and I ask God to forgive me every day,” said Pearl. “I’ve learned you got to tell the truth and you got to tell the truth all the time.”
Pearl addressed the issue head on, stopping at one point to speak directly to the Lady Pioneer basketball players and ask them to “take advantage of the blessings God gave you.” Pearl went on to share how you can’t always dwell on your mistakes and handling losses is part of growing as a person.
Pearl set forth with his speech, sharing the foundations of how he helped take the UT basketball program to great heights and speaking about the people he met and experiences he had along the way.
Pearl believes success starts with raising the level of expectations, whether it is players on the team or workers in a company.
“I had to raise the level of the expectations of our players,” said Pearl. “Winning championships was for the football team and for Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols, but we wanted that expectation of a champion. We focused on the process that would get us there, not the end result.”
Pearl also acknowledged how focusing on positives, establishing discipline, building confidence, listening to everybody and adapting styles are important to becoming a good leader. Pearl also added that sometimes being a good leader is about knowing your weaknesses and asking others for help.
“There are times when people have to bail you out,” said Pearl. “It’s part of a process where, as a leader, you aren’t always right but the people you lead trust the plan you lay out is what needs to be done.
“In an NCAA tournament game my first year, I drew up a play at the end of the game. It turned out to be terrible, but the guys believed in it and went out and executed the play. Chris Lofton got the shot we wanted and won us the game.”
Pearl credited his ability to remain humble while experiencing success to learning from others at all times. Pearl spoke glowingly about Summitt and former football coach Phillip Fulmer, who gave Pearl one of the best lessons on handling adversity while coaching the Vol football team.
“The pressure to perform at any job can be overwhelming,” said Pearl. “I remember when coach Fulmer was dealing with the pressure in one of his final years and the guys on the team could feel the tension and wanted to win for him. Before the game, coach Fulmer gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard.
“He came into the room and looked every player in the eye and said ‘Just do your job. You don’t have to have an “S” on your chest or be Superman, but represent the “T” on your helmet and trust the guy beside you will do his job too.’ In 20 seconds, he took all the tension away.”
Pearl also shared some funny moments while at UT, like the time he asked Summitt after his first couple years what would happen if he didn’t keep winning. Pearl remembered Summitt’s words well - “We love you and we’ll miss you.”
In his last few minutes, Pearl shared two last bits of information on leading. His first was about communication and the second was on the three T’s to achieve success.
In referencing communication, Pearl said, “You can tell somebody something, but they may forget. You can show them something and they may remember. But if you involve them in the process, they’ll understand.”
In closing, Pearl mentioned how talent, teamwork and tolerance are always important.
“Talent is about always surrounding yourself with great people,” said Pearl. “The team concept - together everybody accomplishes more - is a given. As they say, there’s no ‘I’ in team. But there’s two in winning and that goes back to talent. Don’t be afraid to be great, but do it in the confines of the group.
“Lastly, tolerating each other’s differences and being able to get along are huge keys.”
Pearl spoke glowingly about Bridgestone, a plant he was able to tour before speaking. The state-of-the-art facility was one that left Pearl in awe.
“It was amazing. I am proud to have a place so impressive in the state of Tennessee,” said Pearl. “The people who work there are what make it the best in the world though.”
Pearl signed several autographs and posed for pictures before leaving to play in the Willowbrook Pro Am, which helps raise money for the local Citizens for Progress scholarship.