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Pearl To Interview With Legends

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Pearl To Interview With Legends

Post  Carolina Kat on Tue Aug 02, 2011 9:04 pm

Updated: August 2, 2011, 4:07 PM ET

Bruce Pearl to talk to Legends

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

The Texas Legends are making a hard push to hire former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl to replace Nancy Lieberman as coach of the D-League franchise, according to NBA coaching sources.

Pearl told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that he will interview with the team Thursday in Dallas.

"When the world champions call you have to listen," Pearl said. "Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have been great and I'm looking forward to talking to them."

Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson heads the management team as Legends co-owner.

Sources told ESPN.com that there have been ongoing negotiations between the parties.

Said one source: "The job is [Pearl's] if he wants it."

Coaching in the D-League is a logical step for Pearl in his quest to break into the NBA, most likely as an assistant coach. But Pearl is in high demand as a college basketball analyst after he was fired by Tennessee in the spring, so it remains to be seen whether Pearl wants to make an immediate return to coaching or if he'll opt for a more lucrative position in TV.

Earlier this month, with the option of continuing as coach, Lieberman decided to move to the Legends' front office as assistant general manager. The women's basketball pioneer last season became the first woman to coach a men's team under the NBA's umbrella when she guided the expansion Legends to a spot in the playoffs.

Pearl was fired by Tennessee after six highly successful seasons when the school, after Pearl had been charged in September by the NCAA with unethical conduct, learned of additional violations committed on Sept. 14, 2010 and in March 2011. The NCAA has yet to rule on how long Pearl will be barred from college coaching.

Pearl went before the committee on infractions on June 11 in Indianapolis. During that hearing Pearl said that he and the university have already been penalized by the school and the SEC.

Depending on the penalty Pearl receives, he may face restrictions in a new college job.

"Right now college is not an option for me," Pearl said Tuesday. "I've always enjoyed working with players and coaching them during their development."

The Legends, sources said, are hoping that the opportunity to coach what arguably ranks as the D-League's most high-profile franchise -- in the same market as the reigning NBA champions -- will ultimately sway Pearl to take the job. He led the Volunteers to the NCAA tournament in each of his six seasons, making one trip to the Elite Eight and two to the Sweet 16.

Yahoo! Sports reported in May that the D-League's Maine Red Claws made a run at Pearl to replace Austin Ainge, son of Boston Celtics president of basketball Danny Ainge, before the Red Claws ultimately hired former University of Virginia coach Dave Leitao.

Coaches in the D-League generally work on one-year contracts, but Lieberman had been promised when she took the job that she'd have the option of choosing whether to stay on as Legends coach or move into management after the 2010-11 season.

Lieberman told ESPNDallas.com earlier this month that she debated the switch for weeks after the Legends' season ended in April, ultimately deciding that her long-held goal of "making it normal" for a woman to coach men at the game's highest level would have to be temporarily placed on hold for family reasons.

"I have one son and he has one senior year," Lieberman said, referring to son T.J. Cline. "It's not to say I'll never coach again, because T.J. goes to college in a year, but I felt like this was the right thing to do right now. I don't want to have any regrets as a mom. I want him to look up [when he plays high school basketball] and see me in the stands."

In her new role, Lieberman will work alongside Legends president of basketball operations Spud Webb and general manager Del Harris.

The search for a successor began immediately because the D-League will continue to operate starting in October even if the NBA lockout has not been lifted.

Nelson hired Lieberman to coach the Legends in November 2009 after a chance meeting at a Starbucks. Looking for someone with local ties and some name recognition in addition to the requisite basketball qualifications, Nelson has often said that he left the coffee-house chat with Lieberman convinced "that the best man for a job was a woman."

The presence of Lieberman and several players on the roster with an NBA pedigree -- Antonio Daniels, Joe Alexander, Sean Williams and, briefly, Rashad McCants -- established the Legends as the closest thing to a glamour franchise in the D-League last season. The highlight of a 24-26 campaign: Texas erased an eight-point deficit in the final 42 seconds of its regular-season finale against the Austin Toros on the road and eventually got the win in double overtime it needed to clinch a playoff berth.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNDallas.com. Information from ESPN.com senior college writer Andy Katz was used in this report.

Follow Marc Stein on Twitter: @stein_line_HQ

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