For those of you who read this site on a regular basis, you’ve seen much of what I’m about to write before. So why re-write it? Because each time I write something new on a topic, I’m met with a series of yeah-buts from people who didn’t read our earlier work. And that happened again with a series of 5am text messages to my home this morning.
Yesterday, we mentioned that new information had come to light regarding the final secondary violation of the Bruce Pearl era at Tennessee. We also pointed out that — in our view — there’s still a whole lotta spinnin’ goin’ on when it comes to the ex-coach’s ouster. The focus of much of the media coverage regarding Pearl’s dismissal has been on the secondary violations the coach committed. Few have taken the time to point out that Pearl’s lie to NCAA detectives and his apparent attempt at a cover-up soon after were much worse than the secondary violations he committed and are, in fact, the reason he is no longer employed.
But let’s start before that. We don’t like firings around here and you won’t see us call for heads. We haven’t in three years, anyway. That said, UT should have fired Pearl back in September. We didn’t call for it at the time, but we most assuredly thought it would be in the school’s best interest to change coaches. At the very least, as we’ve stated previously, it should have suspended him for a full season to show the NCAA that it took the coach’s violations seriously.
Instead — and it made sense from a business perspective — Vol administrators decided to stand by Pearl. They thought: Better to take sanctions and rebuild with a proven, popular winner than take sanctions and rebuild with, say, a young mid-major coach from the Missouri Valley Conference that no one in Knoxville has ever heard of.
But by standing by Pearl from September through February, Tennessee’s athletic department and the school’s chancellor sent a couple of clear messages to Vol supporters:
1. Pearl is our guy unless something major changes.
2. These NCAA charges aren’t that serious. (Though they never stated that, that was certainly the message that was sent.)
They should have known better. When the national media’s eyes popped out of their heads, UT should’ve realized they’d stepped in it. When their coach was called a liar and a cheat (and to be fair, he covered up some secondary cheating), they should’ve gotten the picture. When pundits claimed that they should have fired the coach because coaches who lie to the NCAA are always fired… UT officials should have acted.
But they didn’t. They heard all this. It built up. The embarrassment of the scandal weighed on a few key boosters, too. No one close to Tennessee enjoyed the school’s name being dragged through the mud. (Which is why Jim Tressel’s probably won’t last through the fall at Ohio State.) But UT still didn’t act.
Unfortunately for Pearl, the NCAA accused him of another violation of the so-called bump rule just a week after UT had held its mea culpa press conference. Not good.
Then Pearl’s staff committed yet another secondary violation on the day of UT’s final regular season game against Kentucky, which is the violation detailed yesterday.
Then at the SEC Tournament — it has been widely rumored — someone close to the NCAA’s committee on infractions is believed to have offered up a stern warning to the Vol athletic department.
“Keep Pearl and you’re really asking for it. Let him go and you may save yourself some additional pain.”
By the time it appeared clear that Pearl would be jettisoned post-NCAA Tournament, we wrote that UT should come right out and say, “We hate to do this, but we’re trying to save the program and firing Pearl is the lesser of two evils.”
Instead, when the Pearl firing came, UT put out a pair of press releases, one of which stated: “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.”
Basically, UT’s press releases were designed to make the Pearl dismissal more palatable to the Big Orange fanbase by tossing out the hint of newer, smaller improprieties. Uh, that failed.
And now the school is being beaten over the head for those “Oh, and this changed, too” tidbits that it released as spin in the announcement of Pearl’s dismissal.
We’re fine with that. The school shot itself in the foot both when keeping Pearl and when firing him. That’s not easy to do. So the school’s administration is getting what it deserves on that front.
The Knoxville News Sentinel filed an open records request with Tennessee to find out more about the final secondary violation regarding extra tickets. When they got it, they wrote this piece, which we linked you to yesterday. The paper focused on this new information and the final violation stating:
Former Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl didn’t have direct involvement in the final secondary violation that led to his firing on March 21.
But did the violation really lead to the firing? Not according to UT’s release. Tennessee’s administration talked about the “cumulative effect” of a number of issues.
The Tennessean ran an article from The Associated Press which stated, in contrast, that the secondary violation “ultimately played a role” in the coach’s firing. Small difference, but it certainly appears to be more in line with what actually happened.
From a fan reaction standpoint, saying a tiny ticket violation that Pearl had no knowledge of was the reason for his ouster served as gasoline on a fire.
But the bottom line is this, most of the media stories coming out of East Tennessee list all of the secondary violations along with Pearl’s lie/cover-up in lumped-together fashion. In reality, the lie and the cover-up trump the secondary violations. Without the lie and the cover-up, Pearl would still be employed at Tennessee.
Does UT deserve to be blasted for its continued mishandling of the situation? Yes. Instead of speaking honestly, UT tried to spin. And now they’re being spun against when it comes to the reasons behind Pearl’s firing.
UT botched things with Pearl. Coming and going. But as the press wails away at Tennessee officials for their gaffes, someone should take care to present the full facts of the Pearl dismissal. Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek oversaw a real mess with his school’s handling of L’Affaire Pearl. But without the lie and the cover-up, there’s no scandal to mishandle.
Pearl wasn’t fired for a barbecue or two extra tickets given to a player’s mom. He was fired for his cover-up. That part’s on the coach.
Everything else can be dumped on the school.