Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl will remain with the Vols after renegotiating a new six-year contract Thursday night.
“I want to be able to say, unequivocally, that leaving was not an option,’’ Pearl told the News Sentinel. “Where there was smoke, there was fire.’’
There were numerous reports Thursday that Memphis was in the process of making a run at Pearl for its coaching vacancy. A source close to the UT program said there were indications the Tigers might be willing to pay Pearl up to $3.25 million annually.
Pearl was in Detroit Thursday where he presented Louisville coach Rick Pitino with the Adolph Rupp national Coach of the Year award — an award Pearl won last season.
FedEx vice president Alan Graf, a mega-booster who’s leading the search at Memphis, was also in Detroit and there was speculation Pearl was among the coaches he would approach. Pearl did not want to comment on any possible overtures from Memphis.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton repeated Thursday that Memphis had not contacted UT asking for permission to talk with Pearl.
“I would deny them permission, but I don’t necessarily think that means they’re going to ask,” said Hamilton. “The reality is that’s kind of an archaic way of dealing with these changes in the last few years.’’
There are no stipulations in Pearl’s contract that would have enabled Hamilton to deny Memphis access to talk with Pearl.
Pearl, who has led the Vols to four NCAA appearances and posted the best record in the SEC in his four years with the program, sounded relieved to have a new contract in place.
“I’m glad it’s done, and so is my staff and my players,’’ Pearl said. “I’m sorry that it was a distracting day at home.’’
UT issued a release at 8 p.m. that it has reached an agreement in principle and details of the contract will be disclosed in the coming days.
Pearl has said in past negotiations with UT that he’s comfortable being the third-highest paid coach in the SEC. For Pearl to hold that spot securely, the new contract would call for him to make at least $2 million annually.
New Kentucky coach John Calipari, who was hired away this week from Memphis, has a contract worth $3.7 annually while Florida’s Billy Donovan makes $3.5 million. Alabama hired Anthony Grant last week for a reported $2 million a year, and Georgia has shown signs it is willing to offer in the $2 million range to fill its coaching vacancy.
Pearl was due to make $1.7 million for the 2009-10 season plus a $500,000 retention bonus. But the following season, Pearl’s contract called for him to dip back down to $1.8 million.
Pearl’s contract contained an escalator clause that called for an annual raise of $100,000 through the 2013-14 season with another $500,000 retention bonus due him in 2013.
“Mike (Hamilton) has been terrifically supportive and committed to making this one of the best jobs in college basketball,’’ Pearl said in the UT release. “I want to ensure the University of Tennessee and its fans that I’m 100-percent committed to this school, this program and our student-athletes.
“I truly love my job, and I want it to be clear that I’m not interested in any other job,’’ Pearl said. “There’s no place in the country I’d rather be than the University of Tennessee.
“My children are happy here in the Knoxville community. One is in high school, one is in middle school and two are currently attending the university.’’
Hamilton also released a statement.
“The job Bruce Pearl has done as basketball coach at the University of Tennessee is nothing short of phenomenal,’’ he said. “Bruce gets it. The way he mentors and coaches our student athletes, promotes the program and represents our institution — coupled with the success he and the team have had on the court — has set a new standard for Tennessee basketball.
“We are committed to helping him and his staff to achieve even greater heights in the years ahead.’’
Former UT fan-favorite Dane Bradshaw, who played under Pearl, said he’s as relieved as anyone a deal was worked out.
“I was getting nervous just like everyone else,’’ Bradshaw said. “He’s absolutely deserving; having witnessed the pressures that goes into being a head coach at this level, he’s as deserving as anyone in the country.’’
Bradshaw, a Memphis native, said the thought of Pearl with the Tigers made him a little uncomfortable.
“I love to see Bruce in orange, but he’s one of my best friends in the world and I’d have supported him anywhere he went,’’ Bradshaw said. “But I would have stayed true to the orange if there was a head-to-head match up, and I would have let him know that.’’