Bruce Pearl comments on NCAA investigation
MEMPHIS — Bruce Pearl lied to the NCAA earlier this year and lied about lying last weekend, a streak of dishonesty so egregious that his suddenly fraudulent image seems to be the least of his problems at the University of Tennessee.
Those who were inclined to roll their eyes at Pearl's tearful apology last Friday surely found satisfaction in the revelation earlier this week that an incriminating picture -- not his "conscience," as he initially claimed -- compelled him to tell the truth about recruiting violations after initially misleading NCAA investigators.
But if you want to understand why Pearl's guilty admission was even less sincere than it now seems, there was no better place to be Wednesday than Memphis, where Pearl and his top assistant, Steve Forbes, were making the rounds at local high schools in a desperate attempt at damage control.
"They were over for about three hours," Melrose coach Jermaine Johnson said, undoubtedly to see top-10 recruit Adonis Thomas, who visited Tennessee last weekend and is also the top recruiting target for Memphis and others.
Understand, in an attempt to appear proactive and stave off harsher sanctions last Friday, Tennessee banned Pearl and Forbes from off-campus recruiting for a year. Another assistant, Tony Jones, will be off the road for nine months while a third assistant, Jason Shay, will be allowed to recruit off campus after three.
It's a significant penalty to self-impose, no doubt.
But by not implementing the sanctions until Sept. 24, Tennessee's punishment appears disingenuous, perhaps giving the NCAA additional fodder for a hard whack once all the allegations are put on paper.
Sept. 24, after all, was not picked out of thin air. If Tennessee really wanted to show seriousness about its penalty, it would have pulled the coaches off the road immediately after receiving the letter of inquiry. Instead, athletic director Mike Hamilton gave his coaches two weeks to save their 2011 recruiting efforts and lay the groundwork for 2012 prospects.
"I don't think (the off-campus recruiting ban) will hurt them," Johnson said.
You have to wonder if Tennessee's transparent attempt at penalty convenience will sit well with the NCAA, especially given Pearl's performance in front of investigators earlier this year.
According to a report by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, Pearl committed a violation in fall 2008 by hosting recruits Josh Selby and Aaron Craft at his home. Both players were high school juniors at the time and visiting Tennessee unofficially, which means they were not allowed to interact with Pearl off-campus.
While a clear and intentional violation of NCAA rules, it's not the worst offense in the world. The problem is, when questioned about whether Craft and Selby had been to his house, Pearl denied it, according to Parrish's sources, not realizing the NCAA already had in its possession photographic evidence of the violation.
The NCAA caught one of the nation's highest-profile coaches in an out-and-out lie, and that's no small matter. Jim Harrick was fired from UCLA in 1996 -- about a year after winning the national championship -- for lying about attendees at a recruiting dinner, even though the NCAA actually cleared him of wrongdoing.
This is a particular blow for Pearl because he had built, and in fact encouraged, a mythology about his career going back to his days as an Iowa assistant. After giving the NCAA recorded tapes of recruit Deon Thomas that implicated Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins in recruiting violations, Pearl was vilified within the profession but publicly celebrated for exposing a cheater. Now, it just makes him look like a phony.
And at what point does that start to become a theme? He wasn't sincere in his conversations with NCAA investigators. He wasn't sincere about his conscience. And even the self-imposed recruiting ban, which seems tough on the surface, is less than sincere in its application.
Nobody knows yet where this all leads, how tough the NCAA's judgment will be or even if Pearl will be able to keep his job once an official notice of allegations arrives. Certainly, recruits will have significant pause before signing with Tennessee in November, unsure what the state of the program will be by next summer.
But even in the midst of stormy times as Tennessee's head coach, we know one thing for sure about what Pearl will do in the next eight days, before his off-campus recruiting ban takes effect.
"He said he'll be back," Johnson said.
At least he told the truth about something.
To reach Dan Wolken, call 901-529-2365 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org