KNOXVILLE — Listed below is the full transcript from today’s post-practice interview with University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl.
Pearl and his staff are feverishly looking for answers regarding Friday’s arrest of four Volunteers, including senior All-Southeastern Conference forward Tyler Smith.
The stories, with video and audio, should be online soon. In the meantime, here is the transcript.
I hoped to speak with players, too, but they weren’t made available to the media. Hopefully they’ll be available tomorrow, but I’m told Monday is a more likely scenario for that.
Remember to check here and www.twitter.com/wesrucker for any breaking news on this situation during the next few days. Like macho-mustached Wilford Brimley says on those Liberty Medical commercials, “Check it, and check it often.”
Q: You released a statement yesterday, but what are your initial thoughts on Friday’s incident?
PEARL: “This is tough. This is so hard, because we’ve worked so hard to try to do the right things. I’m proud of the guys that are being role models, but when they step out like this, it’s difficult. I don’t have all the information. I just don’t. At this time, the guys are suspended. They’re not with us, and when I get more information, then we’ll be determining for how long. The suspensions could be for games. It’s possible that there could be a dismissal, depending upon the circumstances. I just apologize. I’m terribly sorry, and I think the guys are, too. Our team will do everything we possibly can to come together and represent and continue to do good things on the court and off the court to restore our image.”
Q: What can you discuss regarding the players’ use of a rental car and the presence of drugs and two weapons in the car?
PEARL: “To the best of my knowledge, the rental car was just borrowed from a friend, so I don’t think we have any kind of compliance issue. I don’t know who the guns belong to. That’s for the police to find out. I don’t know who the marijuana was found on, or where they found it. It must have been the amounts that would be of misdemeanor, which would be usage. I’ve got very little tolerance for that in our program. I’ve got a history with a number of players that were starters and great players that are no longer here. When we get details, we will make those decisions.”
Q: Obviously you seem disappointed in all four players, but what about All-SEC senior forward and program face Tyler Smith’s involvement?
PEARL: “I expect more from all four of them — I do — and I’m disappointed. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult the phone calls are to families, and I’ve talked to all their families. And I’ve called the parents of the kind that weren’t involved, too. It’s just very difficult. I try to remind these guys they have an opportunity to make their families proud, and they know that when they do things like this, it’s devastating for the folks at home.”
Q: Have you spoken with every players’ parents or guardians?
PEARL: “Almost every player. I’ve not quite gotten to everybody, but it’s just important. This is part of our family, and it’s important that I give them as many details as I possibly can, but again, I don’t have all the answers at this point. We’ll work with this group for now. I probably won’t have much (information) until sometime at the beginning of next week, and we’ll get back to you with any further details, as far as the discipline that we’re going to take.”
Q: How did the rest of the team handle practice today?
PEARL: “They did a great job today. We had a great practice, and they’ve responded very, very well. Adversity doesn’t build character; it reveals character. Our character will be revealed.”
Q: Do you think the rest of the team’s players are upset about this situation?
“Of course they’re upset and disappointed and sad and accountable. I texted Coach Summitt, and I said, ‘You’ve been here 30-something years to establish something here, and I apologize if we’ve tarnished it.’ That’s how I feel. I’ve got to be accountable. I think our guys feel the same way.”
Q: What about the members of your most recent signing class? Have you spoken with their parents, too?
PEARL: “I’ve contacted the signees’ parents. I’ve talked to all the players that we’ve signed. They were all supportive, understanding, and they share in the embarrassment. They’re part of our family, and part of our team.”
Q: Are you preparing for next week’s games with the assumption that those four won’t be available?
PEARL: “I don’t know. A lot’s going to depend on the outcome. They’re suspended, but to speculate any further, I would say it’s likely that all or some won’t play in that game. But I just don’t know right now. I don’t have enough details.”
Q: Without Goins, where can you turn to find a second point guard behind Bobby Maze?
PEARL: “It’s interesting, because Tyler had played point guard effectively. Tyler played some point guard in that (Memphis) game because Melvin had tweaked his ankle, and Bobby fouled out. We’ll look at Josh Bone at the position, and we’ll look at J.P. Prince at the position, so I’ll have a couple of guys there. I can’t speculate right now, because it depends on what the statuses of the suspensions are.”
Q: What about the on-court impact of potentially losing all four guys for at least a little while?
PEARL: “Right now, today, I want to focus on the other stuff, and not focus on exactly what it’s going to do us on the court. That’s the least of my concerns right now. I am very apologetic. I’m embarrassed. I feel badly for the players that are involved, as well as the other student-athletes at Tennessee, because we’re a part of that group, and we’ve let them down.”
Q: What was your initial reaction once you heard Friday’s news, especially considering it came approximately 15 hours after your team’s biggest win of the season at archrival Memphis?
PEARL: “I promised my wife that I was going to go home on New Year’s Day and not watch tape until sometime in the afternoon. I promised her that, because I’ve really been working at. Needless to say, it was a different kind of day that we expected.
“I think the important thing, the thing I really want to stress to our fans, is please don’t judge our entire athletic program based on the last couple of things that have taken place with the football program and with our basketball program. I know Coach Kiffin shares my thoughts, and the feeling that, ‘Gosh, a vast majority of those guys are doing the right kinds of things.’ Certainly, that’s the case here, but we’re accountable.
“(Men’s athletic director) Mike Hamilton has provided strong leadership for this program. The messages that we’ve delivered to our student-athletes have been consistent, but we’ve got to take the hit here and be accountable, and then let this thing run its course. We’ll move on to the basketball court, and we’ll move on to the next chapters here down the road.”
Q: So, to be clear, you could conceivably dismiss at least one of these guys even though all charges are misdemeanors?
PEARL: “Dismissing players is a possibility. A lot of it’s not just going to depend on this particular outcome; a lot of it’s going to depend on the history of the student-athlete, as it relates to his conduct over a period of the last two, three or four years. We’ll be fair. We’ll be firm. We’re not going to underreact, and we’re not going to overreact. The people here at the University of Tennessee and the people of the state of Tennessee have given me this basketball program. Let me run it, and I’ll make the right decisions to the very best of my ability.”
Q: What has Mike Hamilton’s response been to this incident?
“Mike’s been supportive. Mike’s allowed me to call the shots, but with great guidance. He was aware of what was going on within one hour (of the incident), and within five minutes of my knowledge. I can tell you he’s not happy. I can tell you he’s upset. I can tell you he’s disappointed. I can tell you he’s taking full responsibility and accountability himself. He has less control than we as coaches do, and he’s counting on us coaches to do the job. And we’ve let him down.”
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