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Vitale: “99% Of Schools Would Have Fired Pearl.” Really?

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:

* Barbecue. 
* 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.



Great article!
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!

Vol Guest
Vol Guest

Although I don't always agree with the opinions on this site, I do commend the site for being (or at least trying to be) more objective than your average media writer. This article is no different & is pretty interesting. Well done. I think your argument is strengthened if you look at some of the stronger basketball conferences - if it's 75% in the football-crazy SEC, what would it be in the ACC??


As a UT alum, I can say that there is only one reason Pearl still has a job - he wins, fills the basketball stadium, and brings in donations. As soon as one of the legs breaks on the stool he is standing on, he will be fired. People forget that UT has the second most SEC titles behind KY. I don't know what that shows other than how weak the SEC is outside of KY as a basketball conference. UT has always seen itself as a top program, and that it should be in the upper ranks of basketball programs. Where would Duke be without Coach K, Mich St. without Izzo, Uconn without what's his name, UNC without Dean Smith, UCLA without Wooden; All of those coaches took their schools to the top and have kept them there. UT thought/thinks that it has the man that can take UT past that hump. That hump where a basketball program is seen as a destination job, rather than an opportunity. No coach, not even Myers - elevated UT to the height that Pearl has. Regardless of how much money and facilities were built and thrown at it. Pearl is the first coach to fill TBA. He was the first coach to bring in dollars from the alumni to build basketball facilities. I watched the game on Saturday, and the crowd was electric. When I went to school in the early 90's the biggest crowds in TBA were for the Lady Vols games against Vandy and Uconn and graduation. That was it. I did not attend one basketball game while I was in school because the teams were so bad.

As an Alum, do I think Pearl should have been fired - yes. However accepting that decision, I also have to accept the fact that we are more likely to hire another Buzz, or Houston and not the next Pearl.



I do not cheer for Tennessee. When I lived in Kentucky, I did not cheer for Kentucky. When I lived in Ohio, I did not cheer for Ohio State. I now live in Tennessee and have taken tons of grief from Vol fans because I cover but do not cheer for Tennessee. I have pulled for and against every school in the SEC depending on the circumstances. Usually, I'm an underdog guy unless there's a better story out there.

I just wonder if I lived in Kansas if I'd get comments on this site saying, "Well, clearly you're a Jayhawk."

As far as not taking the homer thing personally -- you wrote that I was defending Bruce Pearl because I'm pro-Tennessee. That's pretty offensive considering I wasn't even exploring whether or not Pearl should be fired. I was looking at Dick Vitale's statement in my opinion, schools with winning coaches would hang on to them. But as always, people come in with their own biases and read into what I write.

I think it's important to point out that I wrote Tennessee should have suspended Pearl for a full season to begin with. And while everyone seems to think I've said, "Don't fire Pearl," I have not. I've said I want to see the NCAA's full report. Let's wait til the evidence rolls in. That's also what I said in regards to Andy Kennedy, Damon Evans and Cam Newton. This site isn't big on calling for people's heads. Especially when rumors and half-reports are the only information available.


We don't know what coaches are breaking rules. And this was a hypothetical exercise to begin with. What are the odds any coach would get hit with the same exact charges as Pearl?

As far as others cheating, however, as of last September, Pearl had a clean bill of health. In 20 years of coaching his only blemish was a secondary violation or two. Much like the other coaches you've named. And he had every reason not to cheat because he'd turned someone else in for cheating and knew that other coaches were watching him.

I'm not surprised when it's learned that anyone cheats.



I don't think Donovan, Stallings, or Calipari break the rules (or Grant, Fox, Pelphrey, Horn, T.Johnson, and T.Barbee for that matter)(especially Calipari...for two reasons...1) he knows he's under the microscope from both UK and NCAA--plus, his previous "errors" weren't committed by him, but by two of his players without his prior to his enrollment at Memphis--and 2) Kids are already beating down his door to play for him, so he doesn't need to throw barbecues for juniors)...that leaves Stansbury, Kennedy, and Pearl...anything can happen, but these were secondary booboos (something akin to what Roy Williams did at Kansas--and Bill Self--and they both got slapped on the wrists) shouldn't have been fired over it, equity or none...I think Vitale was hyperbolic in his response...but that is his job description... still, love seeing Pearl having to fess up to being a naughty little boy...liar liar...all that...


To even compare to Coach K or Coach Cal is a little extreme. UT doesn't have the history or tradition of those schools. I also live in east TN. I remember going to the UT basketball games in high school because the ticket prices were so cheap. Packages for $38 bucks. I will give Pearl credit he built the program extremely fast. Fans actually care about basketball but sometimes you can only build a program so much. The difference between Pearl and Coack K or Coach Cal is if they got caught they would not lie to the NCAA. How could you ever be trusted again? I am not saying black ball Pearl but his time has ended here at UT.

John, I have this site bookmarked. I enjoy it. I wasn't trying to get personal.

Don't take being called a homer so negatively. Everyone is a homer if they cheer for any school. You have your rivals and think in your bias reasoning. I don't think keeping Pearl is good for the future of our program. UT has the dough to find a fine replacement. UT is a program that has the resources to make things happen. UT has not even made the Final Four. Teams like MISS ST, LSU, UGA, ARKY, UF, and UK have made the Final Four. I dont think Pearl can take us there.



No one is making an argument here pro- or con-Pearl.

Dick Vitale made a statement that I thought was interesting. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered which schools would toss out a successful coach who has equity over a lie and secondary violations. I don't think all of them would. That's not a defense of Tennessee. Just a discussion-starter regarding how other schools would handle this.

But naturally, fans can't turn their "fan" off for 10 seconds to actually ask, "What would my favorite school do?" They all believe their school to be perfect. Rather that's Alabama, Vanderbilt, LSU, Tennessee, etc. Yet Ole Miss stood by Andy Kennedy when other fans said "fire him." I know Auburn stood by Cam Newton while America said, "he's dirty." I know Kentucky hired John Calipari while everyone else called him "crooked." And Tennessee is standing by Pearl while everyone else says, "can him."

Seems that schools do whatever it takes to win, if you ask me.

My point in this post was simply this -- as is the case with star athletes who get more chances than walk-ons, successful coaches get more chances, too.

But no one cares to see that because they'd rather take it as a pro- or anti-Pearl job... which it isn't.


Good to know now that I'm anti-small schools. Thanks for proving that people see whatever they want to see. Nowhere are small schools mentioned, but that's what you take from this post.

As always, there's what we at write... and there's what other people read into it.



The reason the things Pearl has done, consistently in his career, ie going past the rules to get an advantage in recruiting good players, is seen more negatively than you is there is no level playing field, and the powers are UT aren't wiling to stand up for what is right, but would rather sink into relativism: Would Coach so and so have been fired?
If he hadn't cheated in the way he did( and it is cheating)and lied about it, repeatedly, it is reasonable to assume UT basketball wouldn't have had the quality basketball players she now has. I don't believe 99% of coaches at big basketball schools would have been fired either. Calipari-no. Coach K-no. Yet if the coach at Austi Peay or Tennessee Tech or Tennessee State had done it, you can bet they would have been fired. In fact, Bryant, the Texas Tech reciever who lied to the NCAA about less egregious rule-breaking, was suspended for a year.
I don't care if you are a UT homer or not. You look for ways to throw dirt at schools that aren't big boys (justifying the throws as "joking" while ignoring the fact that being a big boy has so many, definite advantages when cheating and dealing with the NCAA.


I've heard many Tennessee fans talk about Pearl getting a "second chance." That really isn't the case. The NCAA said "don't have juniors to your home." In 2005, Pearl was cited for having juniors at his house while coaching UW-Milwaukee. He remained a coach, and essentially got a second chance to comply with that rule. Then he has juniors at his house while coaching Tennessee. Now he wants a THIRD chance.

How hard is it for a 50-year-old man to keep high school juniors out of his house? How many chances should he get?

P.S. Although none of the SEC coaches you name has been alleged to be a liar, do you really think it's persuasive that, in your opinion, only 75% of schools would have fired him? Seriously hilarious.



How is this a "homer" comment. I live in Tennessee. I've also lived in Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio. I'm not a Tennessee fan. But much to Vol fans chagrin, I also don't pull against them. Where I live has nothing to do with what I write.

Anyone who reads this site knows that I write pros and cons about every school. And I don't believe this post is either pro or con Tennessee. Dick Vitale made a comment, and I don't think his comment was right. I don't believe 99% of all schools with well-established coaches who have a history of being clean really would nuke their man after this type of incident. I didn't say that's the correct action to take. I just think most schools would look at it like a business decision.

But if you think Duke, for example, would blow up Mike Krzyzewski over something like this -- rather than punish him and then stand by him -- bully for you.

But before you throw that "homer" garbage around, read some more of the stories on this site. That's a lazy man's cop-out.

It was just last week that I was getting emails for being a Tennessee "hater" over this piece:

I seem to be either a homer or hater depending on the reader. So maybe the bias is between your own ears.



John you are a homer. Sec schools dont want the press that UT's basketball team is getting. The truth is he lied to the most important people in college basketball. He cried on tv and my heart melted for him. He is not coaching under contract and lost 1.5 million in salary. For him to keep his job is not setting a good example to young people everywhere. The school needs someone to set a good example. Honestly I remember the new years arrest more than the elite 8. Did you see Pat Head coaching the team on Saturday? IDC... You are wrong about your perentages. 91.6% of all SEC schools would fire Pearl. UT is the only one. I was actually listening to people say if he is only suspended for a year UT should still keep him around. Is that a joke? Hamilton should not be in charged of what happens to Pearl. Hamilton is lucky to still have his job. Thompson Boiling is silent most of time. Worst basketball fans in the SEC. Listening to fans shout out travel or charge on every freaking play is so annoying. UT does have the best homer radio voice in America. Sweet Move! Buckets! Money!


  1. [...] Read more of “Vitale: “99% of schools would have fired Pearl”. Really?” on MrSEC… 1.18.11 [...]

  2. [...] Vitale’s comments.  Then we said we didn’t buy them.  Specifically, we wrote that other coaches who’d built up equity at their schools could survive the type of mess that Pearl had created for himself.Anyone care to debate that one with us now?Ohio [...]

  3. [...] mentioned Vitale’s comments.  Then we said we didn’t buy them.  Specifically, we wrote that other coaches who’d built up equity at their schools could survive the type of mess that Pearl had created for [...]

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