The Bruce Pearl saga came full circle Thursday afternoon at the former Tennessee men’s basketball coach’s home.
The story of an NCAA investigation that began with charges of Pearl having impermissible contact with a recruit on Sept. 20, 2008, at a team barbecue at his house ended with Pearl’s makeshift press luncheon, where barbecue was once again served.
Pearl said he will not appeal the 3-year show-cause penalty he received in the NCAA infractions report released on Wednesday.
Pearl hopes the penalty — which prevents him from recruiting should a school hire him within the 3-year window — doesn’t permanently knock him out of college coaching.
“Three years is a long time,’’ said the 51-year-old Pearl, who was fired on March 21 in the wake of an NCAA investigation into recruiting improprieties. “I’ve been in coaching for 33 years, been on campuses trying to make a difference in young people’s lives.
“This is what I do for a living, it’s how I take care of my family,’’ he said. “This penalty is going put a hold on that ... I don’t know right now whether or not this is going to knock me out of the (college) game. I hope not.’’
Pearl, who coached at UT for six seasons, reiterated that he’s responsible for the unethical conduct charge and other violations that stemmed from the impermissible contact with then-recruit Aaron Craft that occurred at his home nearly three years ago.
“I was in control of that situation, and I didn’t handle things right at my house,’’ Pearl said. “Had I been more forthcoming in my interview (June 14, 2010) with the NCAA, we wouldn’t be here.’’
Pearl misled investigators in his initial interview when asked about a picture of him and Craft taken at his home on Sept. 20, 2008, that showed the impermissible contact with Craft at the barbecue.
Pearl requested a follow-up interview with the NCAA that was granted on Aug. 4, 2010.
Pearl, who was suspended by SEC commissioner Mike Slive for the first half of conference play last season (eight games), said the length of the show-cause penalty dealt out by the NCAA indicates his second interview wasn’t taken into account.
“I believe I should have gotten more credit for coming forward and telling the truth,’’ Pearl said. “But the damage that was done was too great.’’
Pearl contests the NCAA’s implication that he attempted to influence the testimony of Craft’s father, John, but he accepts why he was penalized for interfering with the investigation.
“On four or five occasions, the enforcement staff asked Mr. Craft if I tried to influence him, and he answered those questions by saying, ‘No, (Pearl) didn’t,’ ’’ Pearl said. “But just the fact that I called him violates the integrity of the investigation. Regardless of the wholesomeness of the conversation, I shouldn’t have called him. Case closed. That’s how the committee (on infractions) thinks, and I understand that.’’
Pearl said be believes the NCAA system, like any other, has flaws.
“If given the opportunity, I hope to be able to assist the NCAA in trying to make the process better,’’ Pearl said. “One of the ways I’m going to serve is by serving as an example.’’
But, Pearl added, the process of going through an NCAA investigation, hearing and penalty phase “takes too long,’’ and, he added, “the rulebook is too big.’’ Pearl also said there aren’t any guidelines for penalties and not enough levels/classifications of violations.
Pearl encouraged the NCAA enforcement staff to be more careful in Notice of Allegations when it alleges major violations.
Pearl, along with former UT associate head coach Tony Jones, was charged with a major violation in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, released on Feb. 23, after incidental contact (a bump) occurred with a student-athlete at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy on Sept. 14.
The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, however, dismissed the charge in the final report.
“The timing of that charge led directly to the termination of my coaching staff,’’ Pearl said. “We were out there doing our jobs representing the university with an expectation to be judged as every other coach that was in that gym.
“Our chancellor and our athletic director went on record as saying that supposed bump violation was the beginning of the end for me,’’ he said. “I waited a lifetime for a job like Tennessee ... It was my hope our staff could have survived.’’
Pearl said he’s still considering an offer to coach the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League for a reported $500,000.
“I now have all the information I really need to make that decision,’’ Pearl said. “The great challenge is my family is here ... that’s extremely important to me and makes what appears to be a no-brainer decision tough.’’
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball and can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32