“X’s and O’s”

Not only does Coach Pearl ask a lot of our players, he also asks a lot of our staff and himself. As a former player of his, I can vividly remember Coach telling our teams “I don’t expect you to work hard. I demand it. BUT, I won’t ask you to do anything that I don’t think you can do.” In addition, Coach always used to tell us (and still tells his teams) that although he is hard on his players, he is even harder on his staff. Why? Because he believes that even though he may not be the best coach in the world he guarantees that there isn’t a coach in the country that works harder than he and his staff.  A great example of these high expectations happened yesterday- Labor Day. Coach Pearl called me at 7:45 am to inform me that he wanted Tuesday to be a heavy basketball X’s and O’s day. His goal was for our staff to present him with the many different tactics, plays, drills, philosophies and any other tidbit of information that we learned over the summer from going to coaching clinics, watching tape, reading books/articles and talking with other knowledgeable basketball minds. Upon hearing of this our staff got to work fine tuning the material we had been working on throughout the off season.

The morning started off with an in-depth discussion about defense. Coach Pearl and the rest of the staff brought their notes on man, zone, pressure, half court, you name it. Due to our depth, length and versatility at numerous positions, we feel that we have the chance to be a very good defensive team. These characteristics could enable us to be a more multi-faceted defensive team this year. Do we get back to playing more pressure defense? I don’t know. Do we mix in more zone because of our length? Not sure. Come on, despite the fact that my mom is the only one that reads this blog as seen by the comment she left on my first post, as an aspiring coach, you can’t expect me to give away too much. Coaches in general are anal when it comes to giving away the smallest bit of information because we worry it will help our opponents gain an edge on us. I like my job and want to keep it so you definitely aren’t going to get any tactical information from me!

After the defensive portion of the meeting we moved on to offense. From the NBA Playoffs to the FIBA World Games, this off-season has been filled with numerous learning opportunities for our staff. Coach Shay, whose X’s and O’s ability has been put in high regard by Coach Pearl, presented the staff with clip upon clip of other college, NBA and numerous international teams. The intricate spacing and ability of the offense to read the defense and adjust their decisions is amazing. NBA haters often discuss how the NBA is full of non-competitors who try to do nothing but go one-on-one in the half court and gamble on defense in hopes of getting out on a fast break. The clips shown this afternoon completely proved those opinions wrong. There were many multi-dimensional offensive sets that had our staff feverishly diagramming. Coach Pearl was in heaven! His teams haven’t led his conferences in scoring all but two of his seasons as a head coach for no reason.

When it was all said and done, I bet Coach Pearl would not argue with me when I say that today was one of our more productive and enjoyable days we’ve had this off-season. Coaching basketball and helping our players get better is what coaches truly love. Therefore, not only did our players meet Coach Pearl’s expectations at our 6:30am conditioning workout, our staff did as well. The ability to put our players in better positions to be successful through new game planning tactics improved as we continue find ways to get better every day and in every way.


About Mark Pancratz's Blog

A native of Schaumburg, Ill., Mark Pancratz played Division I basketball at UW-Milwaukee, earning his degree in marketing and finance. He joined Tennessee's staff in 2006 as a graduate assistant, earning his master's degree in sports management later that year. Serving as a G.A., director of video scouting and assistant to the head coach, Pancratz was an integral part of Tennessee's six-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. At 26, Pancratz boasts an impressive 18 games of NCAA Tournament experience as a player and/or administrative staff member. He is a member of the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and voted one of the 100 Legends of Illinois High School Basketball. Pancratz resides in Knoxville and is married to the former Brooke Waddell.
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7 Responses to “X’s and O’s”

  1. Tiffany Anderson says:

    Love the blog. I am constantly learning and looking for more information on how to be a great coach!

  2. Justin Pecka says:

    I don’t know a staff that works harder than you guys. True testament to the Vol’s success the past five years. Keep up the good work with the blog! The insight is valuable to coaches at lower levels.

  3. Matt Johns says:

    Thanks for the inside look into the workouts and planning processes of a D1 staff. Its great for this high school basketball coach to see how you use your time, what you demand of your players, and how you approach planning for the upcoming season. Keep the blog post coming.

  4. Tony Lester says:

    Mark, thanks for blogging. This is great stuff. I can’t wait to see the new wrinkles the Vols come out with this year. I hope you keep the defensive tactics that worked so well last year. But I guess everyone will be adjusting to what you did in their off-season, too.

  5. Joe says:

    Mark, I and many others as well appreciate your blogs, even though you may not hear from too many of us who frequent the Hoopsville message board. I really enjoy reading your insights and the inside goings-on with the staff and program.

    Please keep them coming, I look forward to more, and many thanks.

  6. Chad Bailey says:


    Love your insight and keeping us up to date on UT basketball. Keep up the great work!

  7. Uncle Rich says:

    No Mark it doesn’t look like she (your mom) is the only one!
    Keep up the good work!

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