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Pearl Ouster Becomes Clearer, Murkier

The University of Tennessee finally released two statements regarding the firing of hoops coach Bruce Pearl late last evening.  But while those statements made the reason for Pearl’s firing a bit clearer, comments from an NCAA source have made things murkier on the punishment front.

First, some bulletpoints:


1.  Tennessee revealed last night that Pearl’s staff had committed yet another NCAA violation in March — meaning this month — and that: “The cumulative effect of the evolution of the investigation combined with a number of more recent non-NCAA related incidents have led to a belief that this staff cannot be viable at Tennessee in the future.”

Andy Katz of ESPN.com — in a piece that asserts once more that UT would have likely been better off firing Pearl back in September — quotes a source stating that the latest violation dealt with “a player pass list for the home game against Kentucky.”  While that may well be “a procedural matter,” it was yet another issue that Tennessee would have to turn over to the NCAA.  Pearl’s string of incidents was growing too long for UT to bear.

As for the non-NCAA related incident, Katz writes: “according to multiple sources, (that) was a violation of the Tennessee athletic department substance abuse policy by UT senior forward Brian Williams.  Williams missed the last two regular-season games at South Carolina at home against Kentucky due to what team officials said was a bad back.” 

This is not the first time rumors have swirled that Pearl had allowed players to remain on his team team in spite of failed drug tests during his tenure.


2.  Despite what had leaked from various sources, UT is not offering Pearl a $2 million settlement and the program does not expect to get a summary judgement… even though Vol AD Mike Hamilton had mentioned the possibility of such a ruling recently. 

Pearl will receive a total of about $950,000 from Tennessee.  His assistants will be paid their current salaries through July 31st.

As for the summary disposition, Pearl intends to contend the bump violation leveled against him from September.  The school is also — according to a source to ESPN.com — considering contending a charge against its football program.  You can’t get a summary disposition unless all parties accept all accusations.  Also, the NCAA might still want Pearl to come before the Committee on Infractions to explain himself.


3.  The Knoxville News Sentinel followed up on Dana O’Neil’s recent piece for ESPN.com — which showed that Pearl was almost certainly set to receive a “show cause” ban — by digging into the NCAA records themselves.  They found that of the 35 past “show cause” penalties handed out, 34 of those coaches and administrators were already “former” coaches and administrators when they went before the NCAA.  (The only exception was a Division II cross-country coach.)

An attorney who represented Alabama in a 1994 case against the NCAA made things even clearer: “If you stand by your man, then you do risk the potential for further institutional penalties or institutional restrictions that you might otherwise not face had the individual been released or moved on to a different institution.”

Mark Ermert also said: “The fact that you’ve got this intentional violation, then subsequent violations and you have continued employment of the coach certainly is an issue the enforcement staff and infractions committee would have potentially dealt with more harshly absent of the dismissal of the coach.  But I don’t think this is a get-out-of-jail free card by any stretch.”

And here’s where things get murkier still.  Former Committee on Infractions chair Tom Yeager told Katz that firing Pearl might not mean UT will face lesser penalties.

“That’s just speculation.  Firing a coach isn’t the answer.” 

That’s a frightening statement for Volunteer fans and administrators.


4.  Multiple sources close to Tennessee’s program had leaked in recent days that UT had gotten some form of heads-up regarding its future with Pearl as compared to its future without Pearl.  It was believed by most that UT was now choosing the lesser of two evils after trying at first to keep Pearl in place.  (That attempt might result in stiffer sanctions.)  That could still be the case. 

But it’s not supposed to be the case.  Andrew Gribble of The Sentinel — who has done great work at both The Opelika-Auburn News and now The Sentinel, by the way — reports that communication between the COI and a school’s compliance department is forbidden.  The attorney Ermert said: “It is unlikely that the university will be told ‘If you do A, B, and C, then you don’t have to worry about D, E and F.’”

That is exactly the story that multiple sources in Knoxville have been spinning, however.  So while the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions might not have gotten word to UT, it’s possible that someone with knowledge of the case (and past cases and past penalties) did give Tennessee officials a comparison of likely scenarios.


5.  By keeping Pearl in place throughout the season, Katz believes Tennessee might have done itself more damage:


The program had gone to five straight NCAA tournaments prior to this season and the school consistently ranked in the top-five nationally in attendance.  Firing Pearl in September would not have been popular among the fan base, but would have allowed a positive transition period toward a new head coach rather (than) a season of chaos that will likely take the program back years.

If Tennessee is trying to outsmart the COI, it will likely fail.  The moves made are so transparent that the COI won’t be fooled.  And the collateral damage from this fiasco will be: Pearl’s career, which may be interrupted for years with a possible show-cause status levied by the NCAA; the staff’s growth, since assistants Steve Forbes, Tony Jones and Jason Shay will be viewed as damaged goods; and the players remaining, who are left to twist in the wind while the program awaits its fate from the NCAA over the summer. 

The Tennessee job is still marketable long-term for someone like VCU’s Shaka Smart, who was once an SEC assistant at Florida.  But the Vols have to be patient and whoever replaces Pearl better get a long-term deal.

This could take a while.


6.  This writer says Pearl carried too much baggage to stay at Tennessee.

7.  This writer says Pearl made the UT job “a good job.” 

Well, yes and no.  Long-term, he proved that Tennessee can win and support hoops.  But in the short-term, he destroyed all that he had built.  The UT program is about to go through a dark period, and Pearl is 100% to blame for that.  His multiple violations, lie and cover-up led to everything that has followed.

8.  This writer says Pearl became a part of the UT fanbase.

9.  Houston Fancher has been named interim coach.

10.  UT has already — likely — lost one signee.

11.  Forget that the violations all tie to Pearl, this poll of UT fans on The Sentinel’s website shows that as of this morning, 70% of the voters believe Tennessee made the wrong decision in firing Pearl.

 


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