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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pearl Pushed Out By Tennessee

I clearly regret having to post this article because I am a Bruce Pearl fan but his time with UT has come to an end. Pearl was gregarious and his high energy personality rubbed off on everyone around him. He embraced Tennessee culture and did things that made us Tennessean’s embrace him. Pearl finished with a record of 145-61 as UT’s head coach and also led them to six straight NCAA tournaments. His resume speaks for itself but Pearl was more than just win and losses. He put UT basketball on the map as he led them to their first ever number one ranking. Who can forget Pearl showing up at the Lady Vols game with his torso camouflaged in Vol orange? Pearl’s endearing antics surpassed those of all the coaches in the SEC. It rubbed most the wrong way but it you are a Vol fan, you loved it.

You can tell how much he meant to the program as news of his firing has dominated the sports scene here locally. People in Tennessee have a certain type of infatuation with him. He cam from the northeast but was able to adapt to Tennessee and from what I hear is not an easy thing to do. The ramifications of Pearl ouster are huge. Players such as Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson are all but done in a UT uniform at this point. Incoming players are asking for permission to speak to other teams in wake of Pearl’s ouster. And with an NCAA sanction hanging over the UT program, how can they expect to land a good coach? The program is left with more questions then answers at this point. Mike Hamilton seems incapable to handling bad situations. His ill-advised interview before the NCAA tournament had to make other AD’s around the country cringe. Hamilton should be on shaky ground as well now as two of his hires in Pearl and Lane Kiffin both have come under fire from the NCAA are no longer at UT. If Hamilton knew he was going to fire Pearl then he should have done it immediately. There was no point of creating the circus that was UT’s men basketball season. There was no point of docking Pearl’s pay, suspending him and publicly backing him for the entire season only to dump as soon as it was over. Hamilton’s interview seemed to be nothing more than him distancing himself away from Pearl in an effort to set up the fan base for his firing.

Futhermore on Pearl, he had built a reputation as an upright and what you see is what you get coach. His persona has been that way since he blew the whistle on Illinois and their involvement with former recruit Deon Thomas. Dick Vitale called the Thomas situation career suicide but Pearl made it through that debacle. Now it does seem ironic if not prophetic that Pearl career is stalled because of NCAA violations. As much as I like Pearl, don’t get me wrong, he was wrong for the things that he did. The most stunning part of the allegations is the reported “Bumps” that the NCAA found out after they had met with Pearl in September. Pearl held a tear filled press conference soon after his meeting with the NCAA but according to reports, he and assistant Tony Jones illegally had contact with a prep athlete. Pearl disputes this and says it was a cordial greeting of the player but at this point it doesn’t matter. Once you’re the crosshairs of the NCAA, they are relentless. Pearl had a chance to come clean and he didn’t which is no one’s fault but his own. But when a coach like Jim Tressel of Ohio State does in what amounts to basically the same thing if not worse, then you begin to realize how unfair this fallout was to Pearl. Everyone knows the story now of Tressel as he knew all along about his players selling their memorabilia in exchange for tattoos but instead of turning the players in, Tressel played them and rode them to a Sugar Bowl victory. How can that not be more offensive than what Pearl did? Highly hypocritical but the NCAA has been this way for years.

Pearl became a victim of his own success. He was a diamond in the rough that finally had a big-time program at his dispense. He did what most coaches are doing at this very moment. Some say Pearl was set-up for those reasons I mentioned earlier in this article, I don’t know if I can agree with that. I do think that he became drunk with his own prosperity. They say it is only cheating if you get caught but that doesn’t even correctly objectify what is going on in college athletics these days. And when you think about coaches like John Callapari, who has took two programs (UMass and Memphis) to the final four only to have those banners taken down because of allegations, it does make one think Pearl may have been duped one way or another. Pearl’s ambition drove him to do whatever it took to stay on top. If that meant 100 calls to a recruit so be it. If that meant throwing a cookout for future players, so be it (even though I still don’t understand why he would allow anyone to take photos of the event). Pearl is just the latest casualty in the NCAA world of rules. Pearl will resurface after a year of two. He is too charismatic and too good of a coach not to. It’s just a shame that he won’t be back on the Tennessee sidelines anymore.

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