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UT Keeping Pearl; Pearl Not Inking New Deal Yet

With the latest Bruce Pearl news breaking on Friday — and yours truly not handling the MrSEC weekend duties — I’ve not had a chance to chime in on the basketball situation at Tennessee.  Until now.

First things first, Knoxville sports radio host Jimmy Hyams reports that Bruce Pearl’s new contract still isn’t signed because the coach and his attorney have issues with some language surrounding buy-out clauses and bonus structures.  If that’s the case, Pearl is taking a pretty big PR risk.  UT’s coach — despite taking part in what looks to be a large cover-up of somewhat small NCAA violations — has managed to keep his job.

Quibbling over his reworked contract is akin to an overboard sailor complaining that he wasn’t thrown a more comfortable life preserver.  Best to just put the life jacket on and say “thanks.”

For those wondering why Pearl doesn’t just sign the deal for his own protection, the new deal won’t offer tons of protection for the coach anyway.  With Pearl facing serious NCAA penalties, the school is protecting itself with this new pact more than its protecting Pearl.

Also, it’s hard to imagine Pearl or his attorney would have much leverage in these negotiations.  Not many schools are looking for a head coach in October… much less one with an NCAA cloud floating directly over his head.


As for possible NCAA penalties, it sounds as though athletic director Mike Hamilton is hoping the governing body takes aim at the coach and not the program.  “We know the NCAA can do different or more things than what we’ve offered up.  That does not preclude the NCAA from suspending him for some time, but they can’t fire him.”  Hamilton also said he hopes that because the violations committed were “actions by the coaches specifically, that any further penalties will be aimed at the coaches specifically.” 

In other words, UT isn’t planning to fire Pearl and it’s prepared to deal with an NCAA-levied suspension to its coach.

That decision will likely bring heat on the university, but Hamilton has chosen to make a business decision in Pearl’s case, not a moral one.  His football program is on the first floor of a total rebuilding project.  Revenue and donations will most assuredly be down this year.  Can he afford to nuke his basketball program and start from scratch on that front, too?  Not likely.

So it looks like Hamilton (and the powers that be above him) have decided that they would be better off weathering NCAA probation with Pearl and allowing their proven coach to rebuild… than they would be firing Pearl and rolling the dice with some other coach.  A coach who would have to be willing to walk into a program facing sanctions, I might add.

Hamilton and the Tennessee fanbase will just have to learn to live with having a bad reputation.  Other schools have.  John Calipari’s reputation and his vacated Final Four (since increased to two vacated Final Fours) didn’t stop Kentucky from hiring him for millions of dollars.  UNLV won a lot of games with NCAA renegade Jerry Tarkanian running their show.  And UConn is sticking with Jim Calhoun (though his cover-up doesn’t seem to be as great as Pearl’s).

Is this the “right” way to look at things?  Probably not, but it is the way of the world.  We’ve written on many occasions that five-star players get more chances than walk-ons.  Ditto winning coaches. 

It seems the only way Tennessee would replace Pearl would be if more violations are uncovered or if the NCAA smacks Pearl’s whole staff with suspensions.

At this point, we believe it is likely that Pearl himself will be suspended. 

If that suspension is for a year or less, expect a current aide or perhaps former Appalachian State head coach Houston Fancher (who joined the team’s video staff this summer) to step in as the Vols’ interim coach.  If a suspension is given for more than a year, then it’s likely Tennessee will be forced to fire Pearl.

The wild card in all of this is how the NCAA will deal with Pearl’s assistants.  They took part in the impermissible phone calling.  They were at Pearl’s cookout with the junior recruits.  And they were involved in Pearl’s cover-up.  If the NCAA decides that Pearl was the man who roped all of them into said cover-up, then they may escape while their boss takes the fall.  But if the NCAA decides that they, too, deserve suspensions, then Tennessee most likely be forced to fire the lot of them.

If all that weren’t bad enough for Tennessee fans, remember this: The NCAA has also been looking into the football and baseball programs at UT.  It’s not expected that major violations will be found in either program, but if the NCAA believes a “lack of institutional control” exists in Knoxville, then the penalties could be stiff across the board.

Tennessee still hopes that the NCAA will accept its self-imposed penalties in basketball and go away.  Sort of like an hors do’evre.  But the NCAA shark is still circling UT’s boat.  And it will likely be March before Hamilton, Pearl and the Vols will know for sure if its done feeding.



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