Pearl, speaking without notes, was addressing Tennessee Valley Authority employees about the challenges he and his staff face in getting players from diverse backgrounds to play as a team.
"I've got a tough job. I've got to put these guys from different worlds together, right?' Pearl said. "I've got guys from Chicago, Detroit ... I'm talking about the 'hood! And I've got guys from Grainger County, where they wear the hood.''
Later Thursday, Pearl issued an apology for the remark, which came in front of television cameras and was aired by WBIR-TV of Knoxville.
"This morning while speaking at a private kick-off event for a great organization that benefits many local charities, I made a statement in jest to describe the diverse group our staff recruits year-in and year-out, " Pearl said.
Pearl went on to call his remark, which you can watch here, an "inappropriate joke" and expressed hope that "the visibility of this mistake will encourage those who can to give to those in need during these difficult times," which seems like an odd method of fundraising.
So far, Pearl's poorly phrased play on words hasn't caught a lot of flack. Doug McBee, a Grainger County resident and the father of Tennessee freshman guard Skylar McBee, told the Tennesseean, "There's no hard feelings at all. We are country up here, but we're not prejudice. It was a joke, and that's how I took it."
But Pearl might hear echoes of this comment in recruits' living rooms. The same easy charisma that makes him the SEC's most likable coach contributes to a volatility that sometimes results in Ku Klux Klan-referencing jokes, a weakness opposing recruiters will bring up time and again. If his program's on-court fortunes should turn, there may be no amount of small talk that will save him.
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.