The day after the Tennessee men's basketball team suffered a disappointing loss to Texas A&M under third-year coach Cuonzo Martin, former coach Bruce Pearl arrived in Nashville sporting an orange-and-white shirt.
Pearl was one of the featured speakers for the final day of SportsFest, a fan-friendly event at Music City Center hosted by 104.5-FM.
"I'm still a former coach of the University of Tennessee," Pearl said when questioned about his choice of colors. "That's who I am, and I'm proud of that."
Now a college basketball analyst for ESPN, Pearl said he has no animosity toward the program that fired him three seasons ago in advance of impending NCAA penalties that rendered him unable to coach until the 2014-15 season.
Pearl encouraged Vols fans to support Martin and the Tennessee team down the stretch, indicating that he still believes it is a team capable of making the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament next month.
"I think right now, today, Tennessee is in the tournament," Pearl said. "They played such a good nonconference schedule, and the win against Virginia gets better and better every time Virginia plays, and that serves them well."
Pearl declined to comment on the possibility of returning to coach at Tennessee, instead insisting he was happy with his job as an analyst and would consider any opportunity to become a coach when his show clause expires later this year.
"It's going to be about the opportunity," Pearl said. "And quite frankly, I will pray about it at the time and hope that God puts it in my heart that this is what I should do again."
Radio personality Clay Travis grabbed a microphone shortly after Pearl fielded that question to make a plea of his own.
"I'm not God, but I'd like to put it in your heart to come back to Tennessee and take over our basketball program please," Travis said. "Everybody here wants you back in Knoxville in an orange jacket."
Travis' comment was met with loud applause from the Vols fans.
Frank Barber, a 57-year-old fan from White House, was one of many in attendance who pleaded over the course of the 45-minute chat for Pearl to make a return to Knoxville. He said he has signed a petition on fansite VolQuest.com appealing to the Tennessee administration to re-hire Pearl.
"I cannot watch it on TV -- it's awful," Barber said of the current state of Vols basketball. "You're going to lose fan interest because it's so bad to watch, even if they do win."
Reach Nick Cole at 615-259-8010 and on Twitter @ncole6.