The firing of popular University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl prompted a dozen fiery emails from six-figure donors two months ago.
With less than a week before the school goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions, some donors are holding out hope that the termination will be enough to mitigate any sanctions.
"They've gotten rid of Bruce, I'm hoping they've done enough so that the penalty will not be so severe," said Mark Smith, a high-level donor and businessman from Cleveland. "That's what I've heard and that's what I hope for. I hope the school's done what we had to do and we don't have any penalties forthcoming."
Smith, who earlier was frustrated with the school for firing one of its most popular coaches, has reversed course.
He now says he has a fuller understanding of circumstances surrounding the firing and that the school has taken the right steps toward preparing itself for the upcoming hearing.
Pearl and former football coach Lane Kiffin will join chancellor Jimmy Cheek and athletic director Mike Hamilton at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis on Saturday. There, they will have closed-door meetings with the Committee on Infractions to face the 12 major violation allegations levied against them in February.
Larry Pratt, the donor who financed the Pratt Pavilion attached to Thompson-Boling Arena, said he's not sure what will happen, but the timing could be unfortunate for UT.
"With Auburn's issues . . . there was a lot of conjecture, and now the issues at Ohio State and Connecticut and Southern Cal, and now here we are - the timing could be more difficult and we could be dealt with more harshly," Pratt said.
Both donors said they back Hamilton, the subject of fan and booster frustration in the past several months. He was targeted in posters at rallies held in support of Pearl and in email blasts from donors who called him "inept" and "self-serving."
Though there has been speculation in national media about the security of Hamilton's job, Cheek previously has said he supports his athletic director.
Asked whether Hamilton's job could be on the line, Pratt said: "I don't see it that way. That may be a personal wish (of some people), but it's not mine."
Pratt said he talks with Hamilton frequently, but not about the NCAA issues.
"From everything I've read and when I was on the athletic board and a member of the foundation, I think there's great institutional control and I know there's been a lot of compliance emphasis and restructuring done in the last few years."
Hamilton has stressed in the past that 11 of the 12 major violations are pinned on Pearl, Kiffin and their staffs. The other violation is against the school for failing to monitor improper phone calls made by the men's basketball coaching staff.
Hamilton also has said previously that it is his understanding that most of the questioning will be "directed toward the coaches' actions."
"Coach Pearl and the coaching staff are very good friends of mine, and it's very unfortunate. I think we need to be aware of it as a learning experience and move forward and look at the positive from here on out," said Jerry Fortner, a developer and donor from Greeneville. "What the punishment will be, I don't know the details of that."
It will be at least six weeks before the committee releases its ruling and donors know if the university has, in fact, done enough.
Megan Boehnke may be reached at 865-342-6432.