Here are 20 thoughts, views and even some possible conspiracy theories tied to Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl's flirtation with Memphis on Thursday.
1. And first of all, even though Pearl told ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" that he didn't flirt with Memphis, yes he did. Raises - for Pearl and his assistants - and a big buyout are being handed out. The negotiations to arrive at those boosts took hours longer than UT expected. So, yes, there was some info exchanged between Pearl and Memphis.
2. So what? Flirting with other schools is how coaches set their only salary bar and how they send messages to fans and administrators. What better way to say, "you better appreciate me," than to let rumors swirl for a few hours. Plus, in four years in Knoxville, this was the first time that Pearl had ever "played the game."
3. Thursday's rumors could have easily been stopped and the fanbase put at ease with either an early-morning press release from UT or two simple words from Pearl ("I'm staying") when he spoke to Knoxville reporters. Neither happened. So don't believe that this wasn't a semi-serious situation.
4. Fans want to believe it when their coach says, "I never considered leaving." But Democrats wanted to believe that Barack Obama could fix the economy on Inauguration Day and Republicans wanted to believe that the Iraq War would be easy. Our beliefs are often tainted by our allegiances. People at UT were indeed wondering if Pearl might bolt, especially when Mike Hamilton revealed that his coach wasn't returning his calls on Thursday afternoon.
5. Last Sunday on my television show, our panel agreed that Pearl would listen to an offer if approached this year. Here's why: he wasn't happy with some of this year's criticisms, he saw Phillip Fulmer get fired after years of service, he saw Alabama hand big money to Anthony Grant, and he wanted his assistants to get a raise.
6. Pearl made it clear on ESPN that a bigger buyout was a key concern. Again, he saw what happened to Fulmer firsthand.
7. Perhaps Pearl just wanted to gauge his market value and the only way to do that was to flirt with Memphis and to make it look like he was willing to leave.
8. Pearl is getting a raise based on that market value. He admitted on ESPN that he didn't earn a raise with last year's work, but instead for his overall "body of work." I think he earned the raise because someone else was willing to pay him more. UT had to decide if Pearl was worth keeping or if they wanted to start all over. They made the wise decision. That's how the game is played.
9. Conspiracy Theory: By allowing the rumors to get out there and then by sticking with UT, Pearl let the world know that Tennessee, in his view, is a better job than Memphis. (That might have been a happy side effect, but I don't think it was the master plan.)
10. Conspiracy Theory: Memphis, it appears, was flirting heavily with USC's Tim Floyd while they also were speaking to Pearl. Perhaps they flirted with Pearl only to make UT fans nervous and to force Tennessee to spend more. (I don't believe that one, either, because Memphis wouldn't want to be turned down publicly.)
11. A school asking for permission to speak with a coach is usually the last step in the process. Deals are worked out between intermediaries and only then do public talks begin. Kentucky actually asked for permission to speak with John Calipari a day after they'd already spoken with him. It's a meaningless, antiquated custom.
12. Pearl's job just got tougher with Calipari entering the SEC East. He knows that. Will fans adjust their expectations accordingly? Nope. And Pearl knows that, too.
13. Memphis would have given Pearl more money, a FedEx paid internship program for his players, stock options in FedEx, his own kingdom where football coaches and women's basketball coaches are never mentioned, a better recruiting base, and a conference so weak that high tournament seeds and Final Fours are much easier to attain. Don't kid yourself that Memphis isn't just as good a job as Tennessee.
14. Bothered by fans' complaints this year, Pearl needs to realize that wherever he goes - certainly wherever he goes that pays him $2 million - the fans will grumble and complain over every loss. He's no longer the fifth biggest thing in Milwaukee. Now on a big stage with a big bank account, Pearl will hear gripes.
15. UT fans need to realize that an East Division title and an NCAA trip are darn good for this program. The goal might be to reach Final Fours and turn into a powerhouse, but that's never been done in Knoxville. Just four years ago, ESPN's Jay Bilas asked, "Why would anyone want to coach at Tennessee?" Pearl changed all that. Vol fans need to remember that. There's a difference between goals and expectations.
16. People need to remember that point next year, too, as Pearl works to get the most out of some disappointing young players. He himself said that his team, at times, had lacked leadership and heart last year. Those aren't easy fixes.
17. I've heard it said that because UT made facility upgrades for Pearl, he owed it to Tennessee to stay. I'm pretty sure those facility upgrades would have been there as a lure to a new coach and to future recruits had Pearl left. The facility improvements might have been requested by Pearl, but they were hardly a selfless act on UT's part.
18. Pearl should be loyal to Hamilton for rescuing him from exile. And he has been. But at what point does that stop being a factor? Can Pearl never leave? Is he indebted to the point that he must stay at Tennessee forever or else he's to be viewed as a turncoat? What's the statute of limitations on career salvation?
19. Did Pearl cost himself any goodwill by flirting with one of Tennessee's biggest enemies? In some circles, perhaps. I heard my share of, "well, if he wants to go then let him," calls and e-mails on Thursday. But I think most folks understand that this is just part of the business. And, ultimately, Pearl did choose the Vols over Memphis.
20. If a rival company had gotten word to you that they'd give you a bigger salary, a bigger office, a better retirement plan and an easier job . . . you'd have listened, too.
John Pennington hosts the Sports Source on Sunday at 11 a.m. on WATE.