Mike Strange: Bruce Pearl, staff didn't handle the truth

Mike Strange

After sifting through nearly 200 pages of Tennessee's response to the NCAA, let me offer a tip:

If you get your hands on the report, the best reading is the basketball stuff.

Oh, there are a few football chapters worth studying. But all of the juicy Orange Pride escapade is redacted. Any mention of former assistant coach David Reaves is surrounded by expansive blacked-out sections.

For example, an excerpt from Reaves' August 2010 interview with NCAA investigators:

Reaves: But I had no idea — BLACKED OUT.

This one is equally revealing ...

Reaves: No, here's the thing, — BLACKED OUT.

So what was the thing? Will we ever know? Maybe when the NCAA issues its response to UT's response next month.

The basketball segment is more enlightening. We see poignant passages from the interviews between NCAA investigators and Bruce Pearl and his staff, both the June 14 round when the coaches were not forthcoming and then from the Aug. 5 session when they — belatedly — were.

And while we've all had time to absorb the Pearl era's downfall, reading the report just underscores how unnecessary and, thus, how sad an affair it is — for the coaches, for the long-suffering fans whom Pearl had energized and for UT basketball in general.

Tennessee appears to have first come onto the NCAA's radar in May 2009. The enforcement staff got a report of impermissible phone calls to recruit Elliott Williams of Memphis.

Later in 2009 Lane Kiffin's football recruiting tactics drew more heat. Then, in April 2010, the NCAA received an anonymous item of mail, a photo of recruit Aaron Craft and Pearl.

You know the details of the cookout at Pearl's house on Sept. 20, 2008. Craft wasn't allowed to be there while on an unofficial visit and Pearl knew it.

Then the fateful interview on June 14. One by one, UT's coaches couldn't identify Pearl's kitchen in the photo (NCAA investigator Joyce Thompson apologizes for the grainy reproduction).

Pearl said in the Aug. 5 re-interview that he panicked the first time around:

"I wanted it to go away.''

"It bothered me,'' he added, "from the minute I walked outta here.''

Assistant Steve Forbes employed the Photoshop defense.

"You know how many times I've seen him Photoshopped?'' Forbes asked Thompson in the Aug. 5 session. "A lot.''

Forbes mentioned the boat pictures that made the Internet rounds a few years back.

"I see him on a boat with his family,'' Forbes said, "and then the next time I see it the kids are cropped out and there's three girls with bikinis on, OK. It happens a lot.''

Tony Jones used the reasonable-doubt defense. He stood firm in the Aug. 5 interview that he couldn't say, "100 percent sure," that was Pearl's kitchen.

Jason Shay played the don't ask, don't tell card.

Asked on Aug. 5 why he hadn't identified his wife, Jana Shay, in the background of the photo during the June interview, Shay replied:

"It wasn't asked of me.''

The damage was done that June day and it would quickly be compounded by what the NCAA suspects was Pearl attempting a cover-up by contacting Craft's father.

All the rest, the excessive phone calls, the "bump" at Oak Hill Academy, it all could have been absorbed.

Even the cookout likely wouldn't have been viewed as an NCAA felony if Pearl had owned up to it from the start.

But when he and his guys didn't, they had crossed a line. Every detail became magnified. Like when the NCAA investigator asked Jones: Was the food cooked at home or was it catered?

Little things. But there in those interview transcripts is the one big thing:

For whatever reasons, somebody didn't handle the truth.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 8

FeelVol writes:

Sometimes telling the truth can be embarrassing,our pride tends to get in the way and admitting our faults are nearly impossible.How we value telling the truth or sometimes receiving it has always been the question I've had to answer.Best of wishes to Coach Pearl and all his former staff.

jack_2222#231746 writes:

Yep, if BP had owned up it would have been a minor handslap violation. That one instant- that initial reaction to deceive. In that one moment, it all came apart. What a shame.

newtonrail writes:

You are right Mike, but after reading it, it still appears to me that Glazier did not serve UT well, leading Pearl into lying. Now did Pearl have to go where he led him, NO? But he was UT's lawyer, and I can see where Pearl went along on that account.

MikeInTN writes:

in response to jack_2222#231746:

Yep, if BP had owned up it would have been a minor handslap violation. That one instant- that initial reaction to deceive. In that one moment, it all came apart. What a shame.

If you've lied and deceived once in regards to your profession....have you done it before? Just asking.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor lie all the time! Witch Doctor like to screw with co workers. Witch Doctor say they wont admit it but I keep the place running. Witch Doctor pretty sure they love me. lol
Bones never lie.

murrayvol writes:

in response to newtonrail:

You are right Mike, but after reading it, it still appears to me that Glazier did not serve UT well, leading Pearl into lying. Now did Pearl have to go where he led him, NO? But he was UT's lawyer, and I can see where Pearl went along on that account.

The UT lawyer should've told Pearl, "tell the truth because if they ask you a question they probably know the answer."

BigVolinCarolina writes:

Thinking short-term and only about themselves is what started this mess. I can't wait for it to be over, but the damage has been done.

Sad part of all of this is that BP would have had job security even if he'd never had the BBQ. If really understood UT's "basketball tradition", he would have known that he could coach at UT for a long time with 20+ win seasons. He'd already reached that and more while here.

Winning a championship is an understandable and worthwhile goal. But it's not worth a BBQ or your integrity.

vut56#231073 writes:

What Strange reports is factual and balanced; the responses (thus far) are muted and on target. Yet, what do we know that we have not been told a (you fill in the number) times. So, what is accomplished by rehashing the same old tragedy? Find something new to report.

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