Vols coach Bruce Pearl begins suspension Saturday

Vols coach Bruce Pearl begins suspension Saturday

January 4th, 2011 by David Paschall in Sports

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl yells to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri State in Knoxville. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive has suspended Pearl for the Volunteers' first eight conference games as punishment for violating NCAA rules and misleading investigators. (AP File Photo/Wade Payne, File)

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl yells to his team...

Tennessee has two men's basketball games this week, one with coach Bruce Pearl and one without.

Pearl will be inside Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night for the matchup with visiting Memphis, but he is not allowed inside Bud Walton Arena on Saturday afternoon when the Volunteers begin their Southeastern Conference schedule at Arkansas. Tennessee's sixth-year coach was suspended for the first eight league games in November by conference commissioner Mike Slive for violating NCAA rules and providing false information to NCAA investigators.

"I think one of the biggest things that you do as a coach is try to have things in preparation be very similar for your players," Pearl said Monday. "You try to do it the same, and that's sort of the approach we're going to take. We're going to kind of keep it as business as usual.

"The only thing that will be different is on Saturday I won't be at the arena when we take on Arkansas. We'll be a man down, but our team and coaching staff will respond."

Pearl said he does not know all the parameters of his suspension, but he expects to talk with Slive this week. Initial reports of the suspension mentioned Pearl having to leave an arena two hours before tipoff and not being able to return until an hour after the game, but he's operating with the understanding he can't participate in any game-day activities such as meals or walk-throughs.

He will not be allowed to phone, e-mail or text his assistants at halftime or at any points during the games he sits out.

"Certainly that would not be within the framework of any flavor of the suspension," Pearl said. "The idea is that I will be suspended from coaching activities the day of the game, and that would include any communication."

The Vols have key East Division matchups against Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia after facing the Razorbacks, and Pearl's conference debut won't be until Feb. 8, when Tennessee visits Kentucky. He is allowed to coach Jan. 22 at Connecticut.

Tennessee won seven straight games to open the season and briefly topped the Ratings Percentage Index rankings, but the Vols now are 9-4 with home losses to Oakland, Southern Cal and College of Charleston.

Pearl led Tennessee to its first NCAA tournament Elite Eight appearance last March but acknowledged in September that he misled investigators about pictures taken of him and prospect Aaron Craft, whom Pearl improperly invited to his house in 2008. The university disclosed that Pearl made excessive phone calls to recruits as well, and Vols athletic director Mike Hamilton removed $1.5 million of the coach's salary over a five-year period and banned him for a year from off-campus recruiting.

The NCAA investigation into Tennessee's program could carry on several more months, but Slive felt a conference punishment was needed.

"There may well have been enough to suspend Coach Pearl for the entire conference season," Slive said. "But the fact that he owned up to what he had done, owned up to the underlying violations, I felt that half of the conference season was an appropriate penalty."

Associate head coach Tony Jones will take over during the eight games Pearl must miss. Jason Shay will assist Jones with the offense and Steve Forbes with the defensive substitutions.

With the Vols coming off their worst defeat, last Friday's 91-78 loss to the Southern Conference's Cougars, Pearl hopes a win over Memphis would ease his stepping aside.

"We were really guarding well early in the season, and that was serving us well," he said. "Defensively, we've dropped off quite a bit in the last five or six ballgames. We've got to stop the bleeding, and Memphis is a tough opponent."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.