John Calipari is the coach with the slippery national reputation.
Yet Bruce Pearl is the coach who got caught cheating.
John Calipari is the coach some say you can never believe.
Yet Bruce Pearl is the coach who got caught lying.
John Calipari is the coach of two teams whose NCAA Tournament results were wiped from the record books.
Yet Bruce Pearl is the coach who was forced to serve an eight-game conference suspension.
As Kentucky travels to Tennessee for a high-noon Sunday showdown at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, the point here is that reputation is not always reality.
As we focus on two of the most high-profile coaches in college basketball, we may think we know them, but we don't really know them.
Truth is, we don't know any of these guys.
Kentucky's Calipari rubs some people the wrong way. On the court, he vaults off the bench in emotional tirades, screaming, pleading, occasionally cursing. Off the court, he's a super salesman, freely admitting his goal is to talk about what he wants to talk about, not what you want to talk about.
"You do know I use you like a wet rag," he told the local media last week.
Tennessee's Pearl is the effervescent ball of energy. He's a salesman, too, the coach who stands on a chair in the school cafeteria and urges students to come to the game. He's the coach who paints his body orange when the Lady Vols play. He's the coach who makes sure to go over and shake the TV crew's hands after a big game.
Calipari and Pearl are too much alike to really like each other, and they don't. Their rivalry dates to the days Calipari was in Memphis and the state wasn't really big enough for the both of them.
"The games where our teams have gone against each other, they've been wars," said Calipari on Friday. "They've been wars, and I respect that."
Before last year, however, when it came to the rules, many felt differently about the two. Calipari was the one who raised eyebrows with his uncanny ability to continually sign elite talent. Pearl was the one who made a secret tape recording and turned in a rival school for cheating.
And yet, while Calipari is skewered for his relationship with World Wide Wes, Pearl is the one who, according to the NCAA, committed a violation by bringing junior recruits into his home, "misled" the NCAA about the event, then called the parents of those involved to make sure everyone had their stories straight.
While many consider dubious Calipari's insistence he had no knowledge of Marcus Camby's or Derrick Rose's breaches, Pearl is the coach who four days after tearfully coming clean, allegedly committed another violation.
You might say the only difference is Calipari has never been caught, and you may be right. I'm not here to pronounce Calipari clean. I'm here to say I don't know, and neither do you. There's a whole underworld in college basketball. We in the media have our educated guesses, but there are many things that even if we think we know, we don't really know.
Reputation is often not reality.
Pearl is the perfect example. Before this recent mess, the Tennessee coach had a favorable media persona. He was the coach whose enthusiasm and talent had been good for SEC basketball and very good for Tennessee. That we knew.
And it might be true that Pearl merely panicked when the NCAA confronted him about his potential rule-breaking, that as always the cover-up is worse than the crime. We don't know.
But from what we do know, turns out John Calipari and Bruce Pearl do have their differences.
People may think things about John Calipari.
But they know things about Bruce Pearl.