Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl pleads his case with an official at McKenzie Arena in 2007. Staff Photo by Tim Barber
Bruce Pearl was the best University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach since Ray Mears, and he had the most successful run in program history.
Read that again.
Now, know this, he absolutely had to go.
His energy was off the charts. His passion — Has anyone gotten more out of taking a shirt off this side of Pam Anderson? — was infectious. His coaching was underrated, and his success — a school-best six consecutive NCAA-tournament trips — was uncharted in Knoxville.
And he had to go. No doubt about it. He had to be walked to the door and asked to return his keys and escorted off the campus.
Before the discussion this morning rightly turns to whether UT athletic director Mike Hamilton will be the next called into chancellor Jimmy Cheek’s office, let’s give Pearl his due. From the day he showed up at the Lady Vols’ game with his big chest painted Big Orange, Pearl was Volunteers basketball — and vice versa.
But his fame in some form begat his failure. Talking about Pearl’s accomplishments on the floor was always more enjoyable than discussing what he did off it. Winning games is not the only measure of success, and scoring more points should never be more important than telling the truth.
It was not a 30-point blowout that cost Pearl his job at Tennessee.
It wasn’t even the bone-headed and much-ballyhooed lying to the NCAA that ended the most successful run in Vols basketball history. No, ultimately, it was the fact that Pearl committed another secondary violation just four days after his tearful mea culpa — and, we now have learned, another one this month — and put his bosses in the untenable position of learning of his final mistakes from the NCAA.
Almost all of Pearl’s NCAA transgressions were secondary, but his failure to comply and his decision to lie made the minor violations major infractions in the NCAA’s eyes and in the halls of the athletic offices.
With Pearl atop the program, the penalties could have ranged from tournament bans to yearlong suspension. With the coaching staff wiped clean, the secondary violations likely will receive secondary punishments.
It will be interesting now to see how Jim Tressel’s bosses at Ohio State and the NCAA treat the Buckeyes football coach who committed similar acts of dishonesty and showed a similar lack of integrity.
Today, though, we know only that Pearl’s successful run in Knoxville is completed. The lasting memory will be a controversial cookout photo as much as an Elite Eight trip.
So begins another UT coaching search — the fourth in roughly the last seven years in the Vols’ two biggest men’s sports — without knowing who will run it or who it will lure to what has become a destination job.
The only certain knowledge was that this was how this was going to end. Coaches are hired to be fired; it’s the just the path to the finish line that changes, and Pearl’s conclusion ultimately was self-imposed.
His dismissal hurts the program and its proud fans, but lies always leave behind a wave of pain.
It bruises the credibility of those who are still employed and those that are looking for their next challenge, but cover-ups always leave behind a wake of damage.
It had to be this way, because that’s what should happen when you lie to the governing body of your sport, come clean and then hide the truth from your employers.
What’s that old saying about fooling me once or twice and shame on you and me? Well, Pearl’s attempt to fool everyone left a share of shame almost everywhere.
Hamilton wears it today, if for no other reason than his ill-advised comments about Pearl’s job security being unknown that were released about 48 hours before the Vols’ NCAA tournament beatdown.
The administration wears it, if for no other reason than that firing Pearl now raises the question of why was it not done in September before the season or even in February when the NCAA Letter of Allegations detailed the 10 counts against Pearl, including the major no-no of lying to investigators.
Of course Pearl wears it too, as prominently as his famous orange blazer. And it’s just as loud.
And that makes sense, because lies almost always linger, and the echoes almost always are sad.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...