KNOXVILLE - Listed below are full transcripts from Monday conversations with University of Tennessee men's athletic director Mike Hamilton and men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl.
The focus of these conversations, of course, is the Friday arrests of four Volunteers - senior forward Tyler Smith, junior center Brian Williams, junior point guard Melvin Goins and sophomore guard Cameron Tatum.
Friday's four indefinite suspensions, combined with the offseason health issues of sophomore forward Emanuel Negedu, will leave No. 16 UT with six scholarship players for Wednesday's home game against Charlotte.
Looming ominously in the distance in Sunday's home game with top-ranked, undefeated Kansas.
But of course, on-court matters aren't UT's total focus this week.
PEARL: "I would have preferred coming in here today and having about half of you here, and talking about Charlotte and Kansas and a team that's 11-2 and ranked wherever we are nationally and with a 17 RPI. But obviously, that's not going to be the focus of our visit.
"This has been a very difficult time, and we have tried to be as honest and open as we possibly could given the circumstances and the information that we know and passing that on to you and our fans. We are still very, very much in a difficult state as it relates to our feelings of disappointment, both for these four young men as well as the people that have played for the University of Tennessee and our basketball programs. As long as I've been here, we've really worked hard to try to get our basketball program up to the level of excellence and credibility of the rest of the university. When things like this happen, it tarnishes everything that we're trying to do."
Q: Did your conversations with the players change your feelings at all, either way?
PEARL: "I don't feel any differently after talking to them. They're accountable. They're disappointed. They're embarrassed for themselves and for their families and for how they've represented the University of Tennessee. As it relates to what we have, we have several, several things that, when you add them all together, it's a worst-case scenario. I'd like to try and treat each individual fairly, and, as we continue to gain the facts, we'll make decisions as it relates to their responsibility in the incident."
Q: Do you have any more information you can share regarding the incident? Is it still your understanding that their rental car was borrowed from a friend?
PEARL: "That's what we understand, that the car was a friend's borrowed car."
Q: Is there any chance that any of the four play in Wednesday night's home game against Charlotte?
PEARL: "The four individuals will not play against Charlotte."
Q: What about Sunday's home game with top-ranked Kansas?
PEARL: "We have not made any more decisions on that, and again, I think that that's just because we don't have all of the information. And it's not because we're not trying to get the information, but there is a process that needs to take place."
Q: Were the players forthcoming when you spoke with them?
PEARL: "I think they were forthcoming, but they understand the seriousness of what it is. They're confused, also. At the time that I talked to all four, none of them had talked to an attorney yet. They're all in the process of doing that. You walk a fine line between understanding the seriousness of the charges and the potential there. You allow law enforcement to determine to what degree this incident (was criminal), based on a felony or a misdemeanor, based on how many charges for each person. You determine what the seriousness is, and, obviously, I'm not an attorney. We will listen, and we'll make the appropriate decisions at the appropriate times."
Q: Do you know who owned or possessed either the weapons or the marijuana found in the car?
PEARL: "I don't. And, as it relates to the details that I do know, I'll give you what I know. I'm working very closely with Mike Hamilton. He is as informed as I am."
Q: What varied emotions have you dealt with in this situation, as a mentor to these players?
PEARL: "I just think if you put yourself in a position of these are your four sons and this is what they're going through right now. And then, if you think about the other members of your family - the other student-athletes on the team, the other student-athletes on all the other teams, the entire student body, our athletic family, our fans and donors, university officials, a faculty member and the guy that's going to clean this room up after we leave - I feel that burden and that responsibility for having let all of those people down.
"There's a balance in there. As a father, you have to love them. You have to care about them. You have to set a high expectation for them. You've got to discipline them, and I understand that everything I do has great impact. At the same time, you want to keep in perspective the fact that the four individuals had no criminal record and have done a lot of really good things at the university and are just as devastated and embarrassed and upset as anybody. So it's really important that we treat them fairly. You wouldn't want this for any of your children, but if it happened to four other students here at the university, they wouldn't be on national television all weekend and we wouldn't be discussing these things so openly in public.
"I've been praying a lot. Just allow this thing to run its course and trust - and trust - that the university officials and the athletic officials and myself will do the right thing."
Q: Obviously, this situation will have at least a temporary effect on the court. How do you plan to deal with that?
PEARL: "I have got several refuges. One of the refuges is the colleagues that I work with. One of the refuges is the wife and my four children that I go home to. And I can hardly wait to get to practice. I can't begin to tell you. When I get around those student-athletes that are on our team right now, it's going to be a sanctuary that I'm going to be glad to be in. My mind will be completely and totally away from any of this.
"As it relates to the task at hand, it's formidable. Charlotte is a team that comes in with a 10-3 record. They've got a signature win, a very dominating win over Louisville. They just came off a game the other night where they had a lead over Georgia Tech (with) under two minutes to play in the game. They played 13 guys in that game five or more minutes. They've got a very deep roster. They're big. They're athletic. They're well-coached. And, if that's not bad, they come in with a three-game winning streak against the Vols. They've had success against Tennessee. But we've got weapons. We still have got weapons. That's terrible. I apologize. We still have players that have abilities and that have dimensions to their game that we can use, and this team has got a lot of fight in it.
"I don't know how good this team is right now. With six scholarship players and three walk-ons in our top nine, I don't know how good we are right now. I know how good we are in practice, and I'll learn a lot about this group on Wednesday night. And then, of course, we'll be facing the challenges ahead."
Q: In your several years of experience with college basketball, how much different are modern players than players from previous eras?
PEARL: "I think people would like to say that young people are so terribly different nowadays. I don't necessarily find that to be the case. I think young people still want discipline. They still want to be taught. They still want to be coached. They still want to be pushed. They want to be great. We do live in a now culture. We want to invest some money and be rich. We want to go in a weight room for a day and be strong. We want to put up a few shots and be able to shoot the ball. Just the now, not necessarily to invest. And I think that's something that's societal, not just among student-athletes, but perhaps among young people. I don't see a change.
"Obviously, there are some cultures that exist that we have to deal with. For example, this is the first time that I've dealt with a weapons situation. Is there a weapons culture that exists or has existed? Is it more or less? This is new on me."
Q: Does UT or specifically the men's basketball program need to change certain conduct policies, considering recent events?
PEARL: "I think one thing - please understand - there may be some policies that aren't in existence that will be. I know we don't allow guns on campus. I don't know that there's a specific gun policy as it relates to student-athletes beyond what exists on campus. Will there be? Perhaps, because we do have a different standard. I know we have a different standard when it comes to testing for drugs that doesn't exist for other students, and that's required because of the NCAA. And, in certain professions, that's something that's obviously required.
"I can tell you from having been here for five years now we are doing a much better job with our testing. We are doing a much better job with the assistance we provide our student-athletes once they test (positive) as far as counseling and outpatient, inpatient. And there were some things in that regard that needed to improve, and they have improved tremendously. I'm confident that we are doing as much as any university as it relates to the educational process, the drug-testing process, the counseling process, the care that's being given.
"Unfortunately, I'm not proud of this, but I've had to suspend and dismiss several players over the course of my career here at Tennessee."
Q: What was the mood in your conversations the past few days with the families of current players, signees and recruits?
PEARL: "The conversations are obviously things that take place within the framework of a family. Everybody's sad, disappointed. Everybody's bearing the brunt of what's taken place, and we're going to stick together."
Q: Have you ever, for any reason, gone into a game in the middle of a season with so many sudden personnel losses?
PEARL: "Yeah. (At Southern Indiana), I had three or four players miss curfew one time after we lost to Indianapolis in a pretty important league game, and we traveled to Northern Kentucky for the league championship, and we went there without four starters. And we beat Northern Kentucky for the conference championship. The guys kind of rallied around each other. But the guys missed a curfew. They didn't play in that game. It's just that simple."
Q: Will you limit substitutions temporarily, given the drastic personnel differences?
PEARL: "We'll play nine. With six scholarship players, they'll probably play the lion's share. We will have to make some adjustments as to how they play. We won't be wearing anybody out. We won't be, certainly, trying to press them off the court. There will be have to be some adjustments, yeah. Absolutely."
Q: What about point guard, specifically? Behind Bobby Maze, that seems to be a real concern.
PEARL: "The thing about the point-guard situation is Melvin had tweaked his ankle prior to the Memphis game, so Tyler actually got the first rotation at point guard behind Bobby. And then, Bobby fouled out for the first time, maybe in his career, so Melvin had to end the game. The two guys that can play the position right now would be Josh Bone, who is a walk-on. He played for Southern Illinois-Carbondale, and he played with Brandan Wright in Nashville - Brentwood Academy - (and) won a state championship. He's been with us now for a year, so he's not played the position at all. He's been playing off the ball, and so he's got a chance to play a little bit of both. And then, J.P. Prince is familiar enough with the position to also pitch in at point guard."
Q: How will you go about talking to the eligible players and making sure they don't already feel defeated.
PEARL: "Easiest part of the job. Absolutely the easiest part of this whole thing is coaching the guys that we're coaching right now. They're excited about the opportunity to play. They understand the challenges. They know we have to step up in a big way, and that's what they're intent upon."
Q: How much potential do your eligible players have to improve their game in a hurry?
PEARL: "I think there is potential for step-up. I do. Of the six scholarship guys we have, I think Bobby and Scotty, J.P., Renaldo, Wayne and Kenny Hall all have the ability to step up. There's six guys right there. Skylar and Josh Bone and Steven Pearl all have the ability to play better than what you've seen them play. I believe that. I'll know a lot more after our next game, just to see what the challenges are. And the challenges are going to be very SEC-like. Charlotte will be a team that is ... they're making a run for the NCAA tournament this year, an NCAA tournament-caliber team. It's a middle-to-upper-division SEC opponent."
HAMILTON: "I think we've got two different scenarios here, in that we've got the scenario that we're currently working through with the four members of our basketball team that happened this past weekend. Then we've got the scenario of how we're going to handle these kinds of things going forward. Our staff, our university, our administration _ we're looking at those things both separately and collectively if that's possible, which we think it is.
"I'm very disappointed in what happened this weekend. I think you've got some upperclassmen who made very unwise choices in representing the university, in representing the basketball program, in representing our athletic department, representing our alumni and everyone's that associated with the University of Tennessee. I feel like they should know better than to have gone through what they went through, but we're part of the education process. Learning is part of that as well.
"It's easy to get emotional, and I've been very angry over the last few days as we've dealt through this process, and frankly, the anger's still there. It hasn't subsided. I want to try to make the kinds of decisions that are fair to our student-athletes and fair to our university and make those decisions not out of emotion, but out of clear thought. Sometimes that takes a little bit more time than some would like. When you act out of emotion sometimes you make an immediate decision sometimes, and maybe afterward as you find out more information, you say, 'Well, maybe we should have done this or maybe we should have done that.' We're processing that. I can tell you to this point I think that's been the right decision because even as we've gone through today, I feel like I've found out more information about the scenario this weekend than when I came into work this morning or yesterday or the first day. How long that will take, I can't say right now. That's why we decided to go ahead and say these young men are indefinitely suspended from our basketball program and give us the time to clearly think through the process and talk to all the right people and proceed in the right manner.
"I want to reiterate again: Indefinite suspension, what does that mean? Some people have been projecting different things for that. For me, it means we start at dismissal and work our way backward. It doesn't mean we start at one game and work our way forward. We'll see where it goes from there.
"As it relates to how we handle these things forward, I think it's a really good time to do a gut check with our student-athletes and our coaches and our staff to make sure we're doing everything possible that we can in the education process and the talking process, if you will, of making sure that our student-athletes understand exactly what our expectations are, make sure our coaches understand exactly what our expectations are, that we've talked about how we're going to handle the discipline and that our tolerance for these types of activities has gone to zero.
"As we work our way through these conversations ... I've had one conversation with coach Pearl, I've told coach Kiffin when he gets off the road this week I'm going to visit with him a little bit about it, we have our regularly scheduled coaches' staff meeting on Wednesday of this week and we'll be talking about that at that point. In that process we will want to gauge our coaches' reaction and our coaches' thoughts because they're the one recruiting these student athletes, they're the ones that are living with these students day-to-day in the practice process and in the game process, and I think it's important that they take part in how we manage this going forward.
"I think the thing that I really want to make sure I get across in this interview is that we will react in the right manner to benefit the institution. We will take the institution's best interest at heart, our alumni's best interest at heart. But at the same time we have to also make sure we're taking the best interest of those student-athletes at heart, as they are part of the University of Tennessee system now and going forward."
Q: What recently uncovered information can you share publicly?
HAMILTON: "I won't go into details. Typically what happens in these matters is you get an initial conversation, and then you find out a little bit more, and then you find out a little bit more. And I'll use, just as an example here, the first day, there was a question as to whether or not there was a felony possession of a firearm, and then later on that day it came back that it was a misdemeanor possession of a firearm. Those kinds of things become apparent as you go through the process.
"I have met with the young men involved in this. I have met with them at this point as a group. I have not met with them individually, but I will be meeting with them individually, as well."
Q: Tyler Smith has been, other than Pearl, the face of this program the past two seasons? Does that make this situation worse, and how can you repair the image in that way?
HAMILTON: "I think that's a good question, and for right now, I don't know what that's going to look like. I think that we've got a suspension going on, and we'll evaluate that as a staff, and we'll decide how to handle that. That's not a decision we feel like we are ready to make today, I guess is what I'm saying."
Q: When you talked about policy changes, will that include a more black-and-white, written policy on possession of firearms, even off campus?
HAMILTON: "Yeah. In all things, do the right thing. You hope that's where you start, and that the student-athletes understand that. Different kids come from different places and different backgrounds, and 'right' means different to different people. I think (we) need to define that perhaps a little bit further. It's clear that our University policy is that you can't have firearms on campus. As it relates to the athletic program, we address more felonious acts or crimes. It talks about 'appropriate behavior.' It doesn't say specifically in our guidebook about firearms. Now, our coaches go the extent of ... for instance, I know Coach Kiffin says, 'No firearms, no BB guns, no fake guns.' That (rule) may have transpired since the incident - I don't know - but that's his deal.
"We've got to go back and look at those kinds of things. I'm really disturbed, frankly, at this whole concept of a firearm being required to live in Knoxville, Tennessee. Why do some feel that it's necessary to have a firearm to live in Knoxville, Tennessee? This is a great community, and I don't quite understand that. And that's part of my own education process, is learning why some people feel that way. For me, it's not really why some people feel that way; it's why our student-athletes feel that way. And that's a question I have yet to have answered, and I feel like I need to have a little bit better understanding of that."
Q: What is the athletic department's current drug policy? Could that see some changes, as well?
HAMILTON: "I think it absolutely could. We have a four-step process. The first involves counseling. The second involves some type of participation suspension, and further education. The third is typically an indefinite suspension, and also in some cases an in-house patient program. And the fourth is dismissal. There's a pretty strong record that if somebody makes it to the third step, they're going to end up being dismissed. Very few are able to go back.
"I think another step in this process, now having gone through what we went through this past week, we'll talk about this a drug-testing committee. It's not my decision, solely. If you're caught in possession of a substance, then should that automatically take you to the next step in the process. I think that's an item that we need to look to in our drug-testing policy."
Q: What was the tone of your conversation with the arrested players?
HAMILTON: "Somber. Apologetic. Embarrassed. Matter-of-fact. These are not fun times, and they realize that. They're humbled, as you would expect. I'd have been disappointed if they were anything other than that."
Q: When did you have those conversations?
HAMILTON: "This morning. They were obviously incarcerated for a period of time, and then they met with Coach Pearl, and then I told them I wanted to meet with them first thing this morning, and so we did that."
Q: Do you have any kind of guideline going forward, even if it's a temporary one?
HAMILTON: "I don't know the answer to that right now. There's not only the external legal process. There's also a housing process on campus. Three of those young men are in on-campus housing. And then you have student judicial affairs, and our guys will all have to go through that. Even those it was an off-campus incident, they're students at the University of Tennessee, and so they will go through judicial affairs. That process has to play out, as well."
Q: Have you heard worried or angry comments from boosters and other fans about recent off-the-field issues?
HAMILTON: "Sure. Absolutely. I would be disappointed if I didn't. I'm concerned about it. I'm concerned about the image of this. As I've talked to my mom, or talked to my friends who are athletic directors at other institutions, I'm one of the ones that's wearing Tennessee on their chest every day, because I'm the athletic director. And absolutely, I'm concerned about that. And I would expect that we would have fans and alumni who would feel that way. The thing that I would ask for is a little bit of patience, as it relates to us checking our facts and making sure that we handle it in the right way, because emotion can take over."
Q: Realistically, can you make enough policies to prevent future situations like this?
HAMILTON: "No. You can't make enough policies to prevent this. You can certainly refine your policies to deal with it in a more direct, black-and-white manner when these kinds of things occur. I don't think that you can necessarily prevent these things from occurring. You have to go about the recruiting process and recruit the best people you can recruit, remembering this: The NCAA limits your exposure to a student-athlete. A head coach only gets to go into a home one time. Those who are around a student-athlete from disadvantaged situations, everybody around them wants them to get to a better place, and so they're going to help them get to a better place. And so when you hear about our coaching talking to the janitors and all those kinds of things, what they're trying to do is find that extra piece of information that talks about character.
"It starts with trying to recruit the right kind of people. Then when you get here, it's coaching them up in the right way. Coaching not only means on the field or on the court, but helping them with life skills - socially, academically, athletically, spiritually. And we have a host of people. The University of Tennessee has a host of people to help with that. Sports psychologists, study hall assistants, FCA chaplains ... anything you can imagine as a resource, we have available to our young men and young women.
"Can we prevent it? Can I draw a line in the sand and say, 'Never again?' No, I can't do that. But I think we need to continue to work toward the process of getting us as close to that as we can. If that means making some examples out of some folks along the way, me may have to do that."
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