KNOXVILLE - Tennessee decided to end the speculation on Monday, firing basketball coach Bruce Pearl after six seasons.
Pearl and assistants Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay were involved in lying and misleading NCAA investigators over the summer relating to improper contact with recruits at his home in September 2008.
Pearl was charged with unethical conduct by the NCAA in a Notice Allegations UT received in February. The staff was charged with eight major violations relating to excessive phone calls to recruits. Included in that Notice was the violation of the "bump" rule, when Pearl and Jones make illegal contact with a junior at a high school just four days after Pearl publicly admitted his transgressions.
Pearl took the Vols to new heights in his six seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament a school-record six consecutive years and advancing to the Sweet 16 three times and the school's first Elite Eight appearance last year. UT won an outright Southeastern Conference title reached No. 1 in 2007-08 in addition to three SEC East Division titles, as well, and UT was in the top five nationally in attendance under Pearl.
UT imposed sanctions on Pearl and the program, docking his pay $1.5 million and reducing the salaries of the assistants as well. Jones and Pearl were barred from recruiting off campus for a year, and only Shay has been the only assistant allowed to be out recruiting since January. SEC commissioner Mike Slive also suspended Pearl for the first eight league games of this season.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton and chancellor Jimmy Cheek indicated in September during a news conference in which the self-imposed penalties were announced. But Hamilton revealed in an interview with Knoxville radio station WNML that he wasn't sure about Pearl's future as UT's coach, prompting belief that Pearl's status was seriously in peril.
The move hasn't been accepted well publicly by fans, but firing Pearl could help UT's situation with the NCAA. UT is scheduled to go in front of the Committee on Infractions in June.
More details online and in Tuesday's Times Free Press.