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The Man He Once Turned In Has No Pity For Pearl

If a new celebrity campaign is to be launched under the banner, “Got Stupid?” I know whose mug should adorn the first ad.

Bruce Pearl has been great for Tennessee and the SEC.  He’s made Tennessee a Top 15 program and he’s drawn the national spotlight to the league with his personality, his up-tempo game and, yes, his painted chest.

But to break NCAA rules after he himself turned in another coach for cheating?  Stupid. 

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

For all the emails I’ve received from both Kentucky fans (“John Calipari has never been named in an investigation!”) and Tennessee fans (“Pearl just made some bad phone calls!”), there’s no denying this fact:  While Calipari might have a bad reputation, he’s never been stupid enough to actually get caught doing anything.

That’s probably because Calipari knows that every other coach in America is just dying to turn him in for any violation.  Pearl should have known that, too.

While an assistant at Iowa, Pearl recorded a conversation with a recruit.  That recruit said Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins was promising him cash and a car.  Pearl turned the tape over the NCAA.

Was he being honest?  Maybe.  Acting in his own self-interest is probably a better description.  Either way, Pearl became a basketball pariah.  He had to go to the Division II ranks and there he won more games faster than any coach in history not named Roy Williams.  When he finally got a chance to advance, it was to tiny Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Once he finished his walk in the wilderness and found the land of milk and honey and million-dollar contracts, Pearl should have been smart enough to know that a former stoolie can’t start breaking rules.

But he did break rules.  And then he and his staff chose to the lie to the NCAA about it.  Eventually, he came clean on his own, but no one knows if that move was prompted by his conscience or the fact that he might have learned the NCAA really had the goods on him.

Collins — who retired this summer after 14 seasons as the head coach at Illinois-Chicago — has been paying attention to Pearl’s troubles.  And it doesn’t sound like there’s much forgiveness in his heart.

“What goes around comes around,” he told The Tennessean.  “Bruce was holier than thou.  I knew Bruce and had talked to people about Bruce.  Everyone knew what he was about.”

Collins also said that even though the NCAA did not punish him in that Illinois case years ago, he had to carry that reputation — as a possible cheater — with him.

“Now that Bruce got caught doing what he was probably doing all the time, he thinks it’s OK to say, ‘I made a mistake.’  It rings in my mind what he said back then.  He said, ‘If I had to do it again, yes, I would do it again.’”  (Meaning turning Collins in… and being blackballed for it.) 

“The personna he tries to portray is that he’s Honest John.  If I sound a little angry, I’m not angry anymore.  God has taken care of that for me.  But for me to say, well, I’m going to take the high road and say I feel bad for Bruce, my nose would start growing like Pinocchio.”

I’ll leave it for the ministers to debate just how much God has helped Collins with his anger and forgiveness issues.  I’ll just point out that he sounds like a man who looks at Pearl’s success (and millions) and believes, “That could have been me, if not for Pearl trying to hurt my career.”

Barring any future, harsher NCAA sanctions, Pearl will survive at Tennessee for the same reason a sketchy Calipari was hired at Kentucky.  He wins and he puts fannies in seats. 

Just a few months ago, Jim Calhoun got a new $13 million deal from UConn.  At the very same time the NCAA was finalizing its investigation into his program’s recruiting violations.  (Also involving illegal phone calls, by the way.)

Winning trumps bad reputations, recruiting violations, excessive phone calls, lying and stupidity.

Pearl had just better hope that his stupidity — with so many coaches out to get him — stopped with those illegal phone calls.  With the NCAA snooping around Knoxville, there’s no telling what they might find.  And if they find anything worse, Jimmy Collins really could get the last laugh.


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