BRISTOL, Conn. — Staring at the computer screen, Bruce Pearl hits his groove. It's Saturday morning and he's watching film of this season's first Duke-Syracuse game. Handwritten notes fill the front and back of his paper.
Stop the tape, he tells the ESPN producer to his left as he points to the screen. The former coach turned TV analyst broke down Syracuse's famous zone defense.
"You know why this is a bad shot?" Pearl says, pointing to a Blue Devils player hanging on the free-throw line. "Because it's against a 2-3 zone. The high post is a great place to get it, but a bad place to shoot it. It's one of the worst shots in basketball."
For the next hour, Pearl looks at more film and calls up a coach or two for scouting reports. This is all in preparation for the ESPN halftime show on ESPN2, something that he's been a part of since the fall of 2012.
Pearl brings a coaches mentality to his show prep, but will he coach again?
"I don't know," he said. "I'm working hard to put myself in position if the opportunity presented itself. But I can tell you that if I don't ever coach again, it won't be something that will haunt me. I don't feel like I've gotta get back into coaching to prove anything to anybody."
Pearl's name has been popular among many fan bases as of late. His three-year suspension for lying to the NCAA about having recruits at his house for a barbecue during his time at Tennessee is almost up. Officially, the penalty ends on Aug. 23.
Additionally, it's almost that time of year when teams that don't make it to March Madness fire their coaches. If a school wants to hire Pearl before August, it could petition the NCAA to get the penalty lifted early while making the argument that Pearl has already sat out three full seasons.
But Pearl has been keeping busy during his time away from the court. He's the vice president of H.T. Hackney Company, a wholesale grocery distributor that services convenience stores and has warehouses around the country. It's based in Knoxville, Tenn., where he still lives.
Travel is a big part of his routine. ESPN is sending him to more on-location jobs like last Thursday's UConn at Temple game. Every Saturday is spent in Bristol at ESPN's massive headquarters.
Back in Knoxville, fans approach him and ask him about coaching again. And when he watches new rivalries brew like Syracuse and Duke, doesn't he miss being a part of a program?
"I'd love to go to a Final Four and have an opportunity to win a national championship," he said. "But if I don't, I'm OK with what we did."
In order for Pearl to get back into coaching, the right opportunity must present itself. It doesn't matter which conference, but it does need to be Division I. He said he's already been contacted by a D-I school, but turned it down.
"A place where they want to win championships," he said of an ideal situation. "Everybody wants to win, but not everybody is willing to invest and willing to commit. So that would be a factor."
He certainly wouldn't be the first coach to go from coaching to TV to coaching again. After Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez was fired from Michigan following the 2010 season, he went the TV route for a year.
"I enjoyed it, but missed the day-to-day of being around a program, the coaches, the players and all that stuff," Rodriguez said. "I didn't have a chance to reflect because TV kept me busy."
The classroom also entices Pearl. He taught a "coaching theory" course when he was at Iowa and UW-Milwaukee. He loved it.
"I like to lecture," Pearl said. "Would they want me to walk into an ethics class and tell them what happened? And the mistakes that I made and how I'd do it differently and how they could learn from that?"
Right now, Pearl is having fun at ESPN. Coaching jobs aren't available yet, and he doesn't even know if the right opportunity will come up in the next few months. Or ever. He's 100% committed to developing his skills as a broadcaster and would be happy doing TV for a long time.
"I think there are some coaches who are doing this to buy their time," he said. "I want to be a great analyst. I want ESPN to be able to look at me and say, 'We can send him anywhere, anytime.' I'm not there yet, but that's what I want to get to."
And Pearl is good at it. ESPN hires a lot of former coaches and athletes to be analysts. But senior coordinating producer Barry Sacks, who is one of the people in Pearl's earpiece when he's on set, thinks Pearl is different from others he's worked with.
"There are some that complain, some that come in and are happy with what it is and are just satisfied," Sacks said. "He has always pushed. He's always asking, 'What did you think of that? How can I be better?' Not everybody is like that. It's pretty refreshing to see."
On TV, Pearl is animated, engaging and passionate, just like he was in the locker room. And just like he is all the time. Walking through the halls at ESPN, Pearl fist-bumps production assistants, producers and other employees he sees throughout the day.
He likes working for ESPN because it's still an opportunity to teach an audience terminology so they can better understand the game. He's always teaching.
The hardest thing though is keeping his segments short and concise.
"I can't do anything in 30 seconds," he said, laughing. "You know what time practice ended when I was coaching? When I said it ended. Now, producers are in my ear with a 30-second timeout. It's OK because I'm a team player. But I want to write a book every time I'm on TV."
During a TV break, Pearl stands in front of four flat screens off to the side of the ESPN set watching four different games. His focus is on No. 5 Louisville at No. 9 Cincinnati. With 1:30 to play, there's a debate about whether the ball rolled out of bounds off Cardinals guard Russ Smith's foot or hit Bearcats forward Shaquille Thomas' heel. At first the officials rule Louisville ball, then change their minds to Cincinnati ball, then after another review, rule in favor of Louisville.
"Look, the ball changes direction after it hits his heel," Pearl explains as to why it should be Louisville's ball.
Pearl is anxious to see Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin's reaction after the call was reversed again.
"Show Mick's face, show Mick's face," Pearl says at the TV. "He's going to be mad."
Tennessee hasn't made it back to the NCAA tournament since Pearl was fired and the Vols are currently 16-11, 7-7 in the SEC. UT fans recently started a petition to bring Pearl back and it has over 21,000 signatures. Pearl is aware. "I'm on Twitter," he said.
A return is unlikely, but his orange blazer still hangs in his closet.
To watch Pearl watch a college basketball game is like watching pure happiness. He loves the game so much. Even he doesn't know if he'll get back into coaching or stick with ESPN.
"You never know," he said, smiling. "It's great to have options."