Peterson leaves Tulsa for Tennessee coaching job

Tuesday, April 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Buzz Peterson saw success close up as Michael Jordan's roommate at North Carolina. Tennessee is hoping that experience pays off at Tennessee.

Peterson resigned as Tulsa coach on Tuesday to accept the job as basketball coach at Tennessee. Last week, he led the Golden Hurricane to the NIT championship.

He felt sorry to leave Tulsa after just nine months, but the Tennessee job was too good to pass up. Peterson grew up in Asheville, N.C., _ just across the Smoky Mountains from the Tennessee campus _ and his father graduated from Tennessee.

``I never would have dreamed that something like this in Tennessee would pop open,'' he said in Tulsa after saying goodbye to his players.

Peterson made his final decision Tuesday morning.

``Your head is turning. You've got a headache. You're almost numb. It came down to what does your gut say,'' he said.

Peterson's contract provided for about $400,000 annually at Tulsa, and he could make about $750,000 a year at Tennessee, according to published reports. Terms of his five-year contract at Tulsa and a buyout clause are not public because Tulsa is a private university.

Jerry Green resigned as Volunteer coach March 20 after the Vols' fourth straight NCAA appearance. He won 89 games and helped rebuild a dismal program that hadn't been very successful since the days of Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld and coach Ray Mears in the 1970s.

Tennessee, however, lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament this year and had trouble winning big games. Under Green, the Vols usually made quick exits from the NCAA tourney except for 2000 when they reached the regional semifinal _ and blew a late lead to North Carolina.

Peterson surfaced as a candidate almost immediately.

Tulsa was trying to keep Peterson for a second year while South Carolina reportedly made overtures to lure the coach to replace Eddie Fogler.

Tennessee officials were looking for a young, up-and-coming coach, and Peterson fits that description perfectly.

Peterson was a member of the Tar Heels' 1982 national title team.

The 37-year-old Peterson led Appalachian State a year ago to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1979 and then took over at Tulsa after Bill Self left for Illinois.

Peterson was an assistant coach on two more NCAA and NIT teams at East Tennessee State, North Carolina State and Vanderbilt.

``He's very personable, and I think he's done a tremendous job as a coach both at Appalachian State and Tulsa, said Bill Guthridge, Dean Smith's assistant for 30 years and successor at North Carolina.

Peterson beat out Jordan as the top high school player in North Carolina in 1981. Then the two played on North Carolina's national championship team the next year.

Peterson keeps in touch with Smith and other former North Carolina coaches and players, often to seek advice.

``He can be stern,'' said Les Robinson, the former head coach at ETSU and N.C. State. ``I think he's effective in a more practical fashion, one that players enjoy playing for him. I think he makes the game fun. He's not an in-your-face type coach.''

Peterson worked with Green's assistant coach, Chris Ferguson, at Appalachian State in his first stint there after college and will likely keep him on his staff.