CHARLOTTE, N.C.-Bruce Pearl wasted little time once he took his seat at a table in front of the media in Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday afternoon.
While Tennessee's basketball coach would have like to open the discussion on his Volunteers' round-of-64 NCAA tournament game with Michigan today, he jumped right into addressing the comments UT athletic director Mike Hamilton made about Pearl's future in a radio interview Wednesday.
"When you put yourself in the position where you provide false and misleading information to the NCAA and you go through an NCAA investigation," Pearl said, "you put yourself in a position where you're going to be evaluated at the end of the year."
"That's what our status is. The announcement yesterday publicly came as a bit of a surprise, but if that's where we are, then that's where we're at. I think you could hear from the comments made by the student-athletes that we're trying to focus on them.
"When our season ends is when I've been told we'll sit down and talk."
Hamilton told Knoxville-based WNML that "we don't know today" if Pearl would return next year and that Pearl's status would be evaluated after the Vols' season ends. Pearl was charged with unethical conduct for lying to NCAA investigators in a Notice of Allegations released last month, and UT is scheduled to go in front of the Committee on Infractions in June.
The timing of Hamilton's comments probably couldn't have been worse for the Vols as they prepare to open NCAA tournament play.
"It is what it is," Pearl said of the timing. "I think Mike would have preferred for it to not come out like this. Mike and I have had a good working relationship. We continue to have a good working relationship. I was the one that broke these rules - not Mike Hamilton, not our chancellor and not our student-athletes. I put myself in this position."
All five UT starters appeared before the media Thursday and faced questions about dealing with the off-the-court distractions. Collectively they downplayed their coach's situation as a distraction, as they've done throughout the year.
"I think the coaching staff did a great job of keeping the outside world outside," senior center Brian Williams said. "We keep what's on the court on the court. Coach did a terrific job of keeping that away from us. Obviously all of us watch 'SportsCenter' and ESPN. We know what's going on. But we focus on the task at hand, and that's just winning a basketball game and nothing else. I think this whole season he might have addressed us twice about this situation going on with him."
Said junior wing Cameron Tatum: "I fully anticipate Coach Pearl and them to be back next year. As all my teammates said earlier, we can only worry about what we can control. We can't control what goes on outside the basketball court. We can only control what we do in between those lines and our preparation."
Pearl, who said he doesn't believe his next loss could be his last game as UT's coach, echoed that sentiment.
"The challenge of guarding [Michigan coach] John Beilein's offense is much, much, much greater than the challenge of getting our guys through any kind of distraction," he said. "I promise you this: You worry about what you can control. You spend time worrying about other things at this time it's just not productive."