Hey. Ya heard that Bruce Pearl’s show-cause penalty ends in August?
Of course you have. A possible Pearl return to college coaching has been tackled by writers for CBS, Fox and USA Today in the past 10 days alone. Nowhere is this possibility a hotter topic than in Knoxville, Tennessee where Pearl still lives and his replacement still struggles to win over fans. A disappointing Year Three for Cuonzo Martin might leave his Vols out of the NCAA Tournament and — if things break badly — the coach out of a job.
The majority of Volunteer fans want Pearl back, regardless of Martin’s finish this season. A worst case scenario for the school might be allowing its ex-coach to move on to another school as it retains Martin or hires some other replacement. Boston College is Pearl’s alma mater and the Eagles’ job in the ACC will probably be open at year’s end. If Pearl returned to Chesnut Hill it would be far better for UT than if an SEC school did the hiring. It’s one thing for Pearl to succeed in the Northeast (and he’s likely to succeed wherever he goes). It’s another for him to succeed in Tennessee’s back yard.
But that’s all if a school offers Pearl a job. And that’s not as much of a guaranteed cinch as most seem to think. (More on that in a second.)
Our feelings on Pearl returning to the sidelines somewhere? Hey, everybody deserves a second chance. By August he’ll have done his time in the NCAA hoosegow. If a school has no worries about further incidents, who’s to block his return? Any school making such a move, however, should consider the fact that the coach has twice found himself at the center of controversy — as an Iowa assistant who secretly tape-recorded a recruit in order to turn in another school and as the man who needlessly messed up his own good thing at Tennessee.
Schools considering Pearl are also likely to take into account what happened to Indiana when Kelvin Sampson proved he couldn’t stop over-dialing recruits. Sampson had gotten Oklahoma’s program into trouble. The NCAA put restrictions on Sampson at OU but Indiana hired him anyway. When he was found guilty at Indiana of violating those limitations that had already been put on him, he was handed a five-year show-cause penalty (that ended last November). The Hoosier program struggled to rebuild in the aftermath of the NCAA investigation. You can be certain any school hiring Pearl will be inviting NCAA sleuths onto its campus just as Indiana did when it hired Sampson. So Pearl’s re-entry into basketball coaching is not a sure thing.
Those are simple facts. So is this: Most ex-cons don’t land jobs working bank security fresh out of the big house. Translation: Pearl probably shouldn’t be allowed to pick up right where he left off. That’s not to say he should be branded or forced to wear a scarlet letter, but any school bringing him on board should protect itself as best as possible against any future slip-ups. There should be stipulations in any contract put before Pearl.
Conditions like these…
1. His salary should start on the low side (especially if we’re talking about Tennessee, where he was already given a $1 million parting gift even as he left the school in the NCAA’s sites). Let’s say $500,000 per year. Total. The school could then build in some major escalators tied to NCAA compliance, player grades, player behavior and, of course, wins. Those add-ons might make such a deal more palatable for Pearl. But the fact remains, if he returns to coaching immediately off of his show-cause penalty he’ll be the first hoops coach to do so. Any school dealing with Pearl will hold all the cards during contract negotiations. And if Pearl really wants to return to coaching and to do things the right way, he should have no problem taking a little less cash up front — a mere $500,000 — and meeting some performance goals to hike his salary.
2. The school in question should use a bit of the savings from Pearl’s salary offer and hire an extra compliance officer or two. Pearl will need to earn his employer’s trust (whoever that employer might be). Until he proves he’s ready to live up to all the nice things he’s been saying over the last three years, a school should protect itself by putting its own gumshoes on his case. Bumps, butt-dials, other bungles… even the slightest accidental misstep by the coach or his staff would need to be immediately reported to the NCAA. Pat Haden tripled the size of Southern Cal’s compliance staff when he took over as the Trojans’ AD. There’s no need to go to that length, but a couple of extra compliance folks to work with Pearl would be a smart move.
3. Finally, Pearl’s contract should state that any misinformation provided to his campus bosses and/or NCAA officials would result in his immediate dismissal with zero buyout for the coach. Pearl has told group after group that he’s learned a hard lesson about honesty. (Who of us ever really learns to be completely honest all of the time?) A new employer would need for Pearl to make good on his word to, well, make good on his word. The message in a Pearl contract should be simple and clear: “If you lie, you’re gone.”
If Pearl wants back into coaching, a lower starting salary, some extra compliance officers and a clause saying he won’t lie to his bosses or the NCAA should not be dealbreakers. Especially since any school hiring him will be taking an NCAA risk to do so.
Pearl has made mistakes. He shouldn’t be banished from the hoops world for them. But he’ll also need to gain the trust of whoever out there is willing to hire him. That goes for non-SEC schools and SEC schools alike. And it’s especially true at Tennessee where Pearl burned an administration that initially tried to stand by him even after he’d admitted to lying to the NCAA and even after he’d called a player’s parent in order to coax him into a cover-up.
At MrSEC.com, we’re all for second chances. If Martin gets KO’d at Tennessee, we’re all for Pearl getting a second chance at UT. But he’d have to earn it.