I am a HUGE Vol fan and realize college sports is all about $$$$$$$.
Success = Dollars.
I agree with you about the 75%, and figure some of the people would be surprised about which coaches actually cheat.
IMO, I doubt that there is a big time college coach out there that has not committed infractions and just not got caught, maybe even the ones throwing stones from behind a TV camera.
I am not condoning anything about the current UT problems or Pearl or even Hamilton for that matter, just agreeing with the article!
On Saturday, the ESPN “GameDay” crew was in Knoxville to cover Tennessee’s game with Vanderbilt. From start to finish, Bruce Pearl was the hottest topic of conversation.
Analysts Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps made it clear that they believe the Tennessee administration should have fired its coach for lying to NCAA investigators. Fair enough. Those two have a right to their opinion and they’re certainly not alone in believing Pearl should be ousted.
But it was another comment that stood out to this writer. Dick Vitale said during Saturday’s broadcast that “99% of schools would have fired Pearl immediately” for his actions.
At first pass, I agreed with Vitale’s pronouncement and my mind wandered elsewhere. But with more thought, I began to wonder if Vitale’s comment was true… or just hyperbole.
The NCAA has not closed its investigation into the Tennessee basketball program yet. UT officials had hoped that would occur in December, but now it appears the end might not come before February. Until the NCAA’s book is closed and its allegations are filed, no one knows the full extent of Pearl’s violations.
But for our purposes, lets take a look at what we do know as of today.
According to UT officials, the Vol basketball staff is guilty of making 90-something improper phone contacts with recruits over a multi-year period. To put that in perspective, Kelvin Sampson first got into trouble at Oklahoma for making more than 500 impermissible calls.
Pearl also welcomed three high school juniors to his house for a barbecue in 2008. Seniors can take part in those types of visits, but not juniors. Worse, it’s believed Pearl told the recruits that his barbecue was an NCAA no-no and that they needn’t mentioned it to anyone.
The above violations would have been deemed secondary in nature had Pearl come clean. But he didn’t. Pearl misled NCAA investigators. When shown a photo taken at the barbecue, UT’s coach supposedly claimed to have no knowledge of where/when the picture was taken.
In addition, he reportedly contacted one recruit’s father and reminded him that the barbecue was a secondary NCAA violation. Apparent meaning: Don’t say anything.
Eventually, Pearl contacted the NCAA and told them that he’d misled their investigators. Was that move a sign that he’d experienced a crisis of conscience or a sign that he knew he’d been caught redhanded? Tennessee fans answer that question one way, rival fans answer it differently.
But the facts — for now — are as follows:
* Illegal contacts.
* Secondary violations.
* Lied to investigators.
Vitale claimed that 99% of schools would have fired their coaches for those actions. He suggested that Pearl had only been saved because of the equity he had built up at UT. Vitale is correct. UT attendance has gone up by 7,000 fans per game under Pearl. It’s arena has been improved. A basketball practice facility has been built. An Elite Eight has been reached. And Pearl has raised a great deal of money for local charities and causes.
But what about other coaches who’ve built up equity?
Looking around the SEC, which schools would — and wouldn’t — fire their current basketball coaches for violations similar to Pearl’s?
Gone in the blink of an eye would be Anthony Grant (Alabama), John Pelphrey (Arkansas), Tony Barbee (Auburn), Trent Johnson (LSU), Rick Stansbury (Mississippi State), and Darrin Horn (South Carolina). Those coaches are either sitting on hot seats now or they have yet to build up as much equity as Pearl.
Mark Fox at Georgia has re-energized the Bulldog fanbase, but in just his second year on the job, it’s unlikely he could survive an NCAA scandal and all the bad press that goes with it.
It’s also doubtful that Andy Kennedy could survive at Ole Miss, but seeing as how he did make it through a much-publicized arrest (and mugshot), we broke him out from the others. Bottom line — he’d be fired.
That leaves three other coaches to discuss. Three successful coaches. Three coaches with equity.
Would Florida fire Billy Donovan — winner of two national titles — for a barbecue, illegal contacts and a lie to NCAA investigators? Honestly, probably not. Donovan has been a respected member of the Gainesville community and the banners he’s hung carry a lot of weight. Donovan would most likely be given a second chance.
Would Vanderbilt fire Kevin Stallings for Pearl-esque violations? Vandy certainly holds itself to a different standard than many other schools, but Stallings has been a first-class representative of VU both on and off the court since 1999. Like Tennessee and Florida, it’s likely Vandy would punish Stallings… and then give him another chance. He’s earned it.
Which brings us to the most interesting hypothetical on the list. Would Kentucky fire John Calipari over a barbecue, phone calls and a lie to NCAA investigators? That’s a tough question. Despite Calipari having never been named in an NCAA investigation, he has overseen two programs that have had entire seasons (and Final Four berths) vacated due to rules violations. UK knew that Calipari would be a controversial hire. Fair or not, he has a shady reputation. (The kind of reputation Wildcat fans would trash if Coach Cal were on another team’s bench.) But Kentucky officials hired him in spite of all this. And the coach has rewarded UK by spreading Wildcat Fever like no coach since Rick Pitino. For that reason, it’s hard to picture Kentucky letting go of Calipari. Like the other successful coaches we mentioned, it’s likely he would be disciplined and then given a second chance. (Of course, his reputation might cause the NCAA to come down harder on him… which might force UK to make a move.)
Vitale said “99% of schools would have fired Pearl immediately.” A lot of schools would have. He’s right about that. But he likely overstated things with the 99% number. In the SEC, the number is probably closer to 75%. And it would all depend upon the amount of equity a school’s coach has built up during his tenure. Which is exactly why Pearl remains employed at Tennessee today.