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Bruce Pearl Fired
March 22, 2011 - Al Stephenson
The University of Tennessee has changed course and decided it could not keep men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl. The successful and popular coach had run afoul of the NCAA and after initially supporting him, the university fired him yesterday.
Pearl had violated a number of NCAA rules, but the one that got him in serious trouble involved the recruitment of a local athlete, Liberty Benton graduate Aaron Craft. One of several basketball players on an unofficial visit to the Knoxville campus, Craft was photographed with Pearl at the home of the coach. The problem was that he was not supposed to be there. On an unofficial visit, recruits must make contact with coaches on campus only.
When the photograph showed up at NCAA headquarters, Pearl was already a part of an investigation. When the NCAA investigator asked the coach if Craft had been at his home, Pearl denied it. Then he was showed the photograph. Yikes! Committing violations is frowned upon by the NCAA. Not telling the truth is worse. Ask any parent who has confronted their child about wrongdoing.
Tennessee jumped in and punished Pearl ahead of the NCAA, trying to avoid bigger penalties with what appeared to be more than a hand slap. He was fined $1.5 million (could salaries for college coaches be part of the problem?), and banned from off campus recruiting for a year. The SEC, in addition, suspended him for the first 8 conference games of this season. Waiting to see what the NCAA would do seemed to be the plan. The plan was changed yesterday.
Bruce Pearl was 145-61 in six seasons at UT. His teams made six straight trips to the NCAA tournament. The Vols were ranked #1 in the nation a couple of years ago, something few thought would ever happen at this predominately football school. They came within one point of going to a Final Four. His on court success made a few violations seem inconsequential. After all, every school commits them regularly - right?
He was valuable to the school off the court. He was active in many charitable causes in Knoxville. He was an in demand speaker and who can forget his shirtless, chest painted show of support to the Tennessee Lady Vols. In short, he was worth keeping despite the problems. Then came the change of heart.
Tennessee decided the relationship between the school and the coach was severely damaged. The school pointed out that a couple of new violations had taken place recently. This after a tearful Pearl had apologized for lying and promised to obey the letter of the law in the future. Tennessee decided they could not trust him and now he is gone.
Fervent Vol fans are upset. Many believe the NCAA rules are ridiculous and that is definitely true. They are backing the fired coach and that can't be good for the Athletic Director or the Chancellor. Will they be next to make an exodus from Knoxville?
The view from my seat suggests that if we all listened to our parents and always told the truth - situations like this one would not end the way it did.
Here's hoping that I don't have to change the name of the coach , the university and the sport and write a similar story in the coming months for the sake of all Buckeye fans.
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