By: Lee Ramsey
It’s finally a reality. What every Tennessee basketball fan has feared for months has actually happened.
Bruce Pearl is no longer the basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. This is the darkest day in Tennessee basketball history. The greatest coach in the history of Tennessee basketball has been fired.
Pearl is the 4th winningest coach in college basketball today. He’s taken Tennessee to 6 straight NCAA appearances and won an SEC Title. Last season he was 1 shot from going to the final 4 of the NCAA. He has over 20 wins every year he has been here except this year with 19.
It has been a known fact with insiders and certain media including the Seymour Herald for over a week that this was a done deal.
Pearl was fired by Jimmy Cheek the Chancellor of the University despite over a 90 percent popularity rating.
He was fired for unethical conduct. He lied to an NCAA investigation committee in June of 2008. He had recruits to his house for a barbeque which is a minor violation. When shown a picture of them with him at Pearl’s house, Pearl denied he knew where the picture was taken. An assistant had already lied and he was trying to cover for him.
Pearl then called the recruits in the picture and told them to say nothing about it if asked, which was a cover-up.
Four days after he tearfully confessed in a press conference he and an assistant accidentally bumped into a recruit on a road trip, which is a violation if you have an extended conversation with a recruit during that time. Pearl didn’t report it. Bruce Pearl brought this on himself, but who hasn’t lied or made a mistake in judgment.
Pearl was fired because UT wanted to avoid a catastrophic punishment by the NCAA.
An NCAA hearing is set for June this year. UT decided to fire Pearl before this so the punishment will be much lighter on the school.
UT has publicly supported Pearl throughout the investigation. Things changed 2 or 3 weeks ago when Mike Hamilton met with Mike Slive, the SEC Commissioner, at the SEC basketball tournament. Hamilton was informed just how severe the NCAA penalties would be and related that information to Cheek and the UT Athletic Board. UT officials met in Charlotte while at the NCAA Tournament where the Vols were playing. The final decision was made there. I’m sure UT officials know the facts better than we do. It is not known to the public or media how severe the penalties would have been.
The UT administration’s view is no man is larger than the program. This is true but there is also a matter of loyalty to a coach who has made UT millions of dollars; 6 NCAA’s, a championship, packed a 20,000 plus seat arena almost every game, respected Tennessee tradition by wearing an orange blazer in honor of Ray Mears, painted up with no shirt at the Lady Vols game and started the cancer foundation ‘Outlive’ program.
Pearl is a winner. He will win wherever he coaches. If UT had stuck with him he would have won again. No one knows if a new coach will ever win here.
Although it was to no avail on Sunday, over 200 fans held a rally to support Bruce Pearl. They met next to Thompson-Boling Arena. All local media were present including the Seymour Herald.
I spoke with Rita Roth who was there to support Pearl. Roth and her husband, who are close friends with Pearl, had just finished having lunch with him. She said, “Pearl deserves another chance. Nobody can replace him. The fans and donors are the ones who support this University. I won’t be back if he is fired.
Bruce loves Tennessee, he loves Knoxville, and his kids love it here. The last thing he said when we were leaving from lunch was I want to be the Coach at Tennessee.”
This is a very dark day for Tennessee basketball. The program may never recover.
Bruce Pearl is Fired
By: Lee Ramsey