KNOXVILLE - Mike Hamilton went into his search for a new basketball coach expecting questions, and prospective candidates certainly asked the Tennessee athletic director how the Volunteers' NCAA future might play out, as well as Hamilton's own job.
"We talked to great coaches, and they want to know about your place as well as you knowing about them, so I went about visiting with folks, our counsel, about what we might be able to expect," Hamilton said after introducing Cuonzo Martin as Bruce Pearl's replacement Monday.
"No guarantees, obviously, but what we might be able to expect as we go through this process over the next several months. And I asked what can I share with the coaches that I'm visiting with, and they gave me some parameters of what they felt comfortable with me sharing, and we did that in these interviews."
Firing Pearl, who was charged with unethical conduct in addition to other recruiting violations, might alleviate UT's punishment when it goes before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in June.
"Mike assured me everything will work out, and I support that 100 percent," Martin said. "Whatever happens with the NCAA, I'm here to coach a ball team and to be successful doing that. I'm really not concerned with what the NCAA has to do, what they have to say. We'll just wait and see when that happens."
Martin's "memorandum of understanding" - a contract has not been finalized - at UT includes clauses that protect his position in the face of NCAA sanctions. The five-year agreement would be extended annually for each year of recruiting restrictions, scholarship reductions or a postseason ban from the NCAA.
Hamilton also addressed Pearl's firing publicly for the first time. September support for the successful ex-UT coach wavered after two additional violations and other "non-NCAA related incidents" in the weeks leading up to the decision to fire him.
"It was more of an accumulation of events that led us to the final decision, a very difficult decision because we very much appreciate what Coach Pearl did for our program over the last six years," Hamilton said. "I'm not willing to discuss those in detail in fairness to Coach Pearl and others involved.
"After a couple of events occurred, Chancellor [Jimmy] Cheek and I visited over the last couple of weeks before the actual change. We met again over [the March 19] weekend and decided that was the direction that we needed to go. We made the decision we made in September based upon the facts that we had and a close examination of everything and what had occurred at that point. What transpired in the last two weeks was really a result of what transpired since September."
The negative publicity caused by Hamilton's public foreshadowing of Pearl's fate in a radio interview two days before the Vols' NCAA tournament opener caused speculation about his own job security. Cheek stated his confidence in Hamilton in a statement released at Pearl's firing.
"There were a couple of questions about the NCAA issues, but other than that there were no questions about campus leadership, athletic department leadership, anything of that nature," Hamilton said. "I expected it, frankly, but we didn't have any. This is such a great job and a great place, and it was such an opportunity to win."
Said Martin: "Weighing the pros and the cons, I though this was a great situation."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.