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UT Wise To Stick With Pearl (But They Should Have Suspended Him For This Season)

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl has one member of the national press in his corner.  But not for the coach’s sake, for Tennessee’s.

Gary Parrish of writes today that he has come to the following conclusion: “UT should keep BP.”

“That’s what I decided during Florida’s 81-75 overtime victory against the Vols at Thompson-Boling Arena late Tuesday, and I didn’t decided it because I think Pearl has been wronged or railroaded or unfairly labeled.

He cheated.  He got caught.  Then he lied about it and, in my opinion, only came clean when he knew there was no way to cover it up.  He’s everything his detractors say.

But he’s also tremendous at being the head coach of Tennessee’s men’s basketball team, and that’s why Tennessee would be wise to keep him if it’s at all feasible.

Don’t do it to help Pearl.

Do it because it’s best for the long-term future of the program.”

And that’s exactly what Vol athletic director Mike Hamilton plans to do. 

There has been much recent conversation about the fact Pearl is working without a contract.  In fact, the coach has tossed that out to national reporters on several occasions as proof that his status is shaky.  But a new deal is already being offered by Tennessee.  Pearl and his lawyers haven’t signed it because they don’t agree with all the dotted i’s and crossed t’s.  He’s not working without a contract because UT is waiting for the NCAA to hand him a punishment.  He’s working without a contract because he hasn’t chosen to sign what UT has offered him.

No, Hamilton has made it very clear that Pearl is his guy.  And — from a business perspective — that’s a good move.  Tennessee basketball has averaged 25 wins a year under Pearl.  It reached the Elite Eight for the first time ever last season.  Thompson-Boling Arena has added luxury boxes and received a serious facelift.  A new practice facility has been built.  All those improvements can be traced directly to Pearl.

On top of that, Pearl’s lie covered up actions that would have been considered secondary violations had he just come clean.  The cover-up was worse than the crime.  If ever a scandal deserved a “gate” to tie it back to Watergate, this story is it.

So Parrish and Hamilton are right to think that UT is better off recovering from NCAA punishments with Pearl than it would be without him… even if the NCAA hands Pearl a one-year ban.  (Parrish believes that’s likely.  We at MrSEC believe the penalty could be even worse.)

In Parrish’s view, plenty of schools have taken PR hits and survived.  Kentucky hired John Calipari despite his reputation.  Auburn stood by Cam Newton despite rumors and allegations.  UConn is standing by Jim Calhoun despite violations in his program.  Etc, etc, etc.

But Tennessee still could have handled the Pearl situation better.  By announcing loud and clear that Pearl is UT’s man no matter what, the school might be sending a defiant message to the NCAA.  Tennessee — which has had the NCAA look in on its football, baseball and basketball programs in recent months — had better hope that’s not how the NCAA views its stance on Pearl.  Because if angered the governing body could hit the coach with a two-year suspension or even the dreaded show-cause penalty which would effectively blackball Pearl from the NCAA ranks for several years.

Had Hamilton announced in September that Pearl would be suspended for the entire 2010-11 season, he would have killed recruiting for the Volunteers.  But he also might have shown the NCAA that he and the UT administration understand the seriousness of Pearl’s lying.  In doing so he probably would have prevented a more serious penalty from the NCAA.  And Pearl’s suspension would already be halfway served.

Instead, the Vols are struggling in 2010-11 and they still might face an additional Pearl suspension for 2011-12 or longer. 

The Vols are making a sound business move in keeping Pearl.  But had they handled that decision better from the get-go, they might have avoided more serious penalties.


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