Bruce Pearl knew he had to answer to the NCAA. Now suddenly his status appears to be in question with the University of Tennessee.
"We don't know the answer today,'' Hamilton said in an interview with radio station WNML that was taped on Tuesday and aired on Wednesday.
The basketball program faces 10 violations, including a charge of unethical conduct against Pearl for not telling the truth to NCAA invesitgators.
"I think that we've done a lot of soul-searching about the direction of our program and we'll continue to do that, and we'll decide after we're out of the NCAA tournament what the direction is that we're going to go next,'' Hamilton told the radio station.
Hamilton did not return numerous phone calls on Wednesday. He wouldn't discuss Pearl's job status during the SEC tournament last week and at Sunday's NCAA tournament announcement at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols (19-14) left Thompson-Boling Arena on the team bus, 20 minutes before the interview aired, headed to Charlotte, N.C., for their second-round NCAA tournament game against Michigan (20-13) on Friday (TV: truTV, 12:40 p.m.) in Time Warner Cable Arena.
Pearl said he was caught off-guard by Hamilton's interview when contacted by the News Sentinel, but he declined to comment.
Hamilton told WNML that UT won't finish its evaluation of Pearl until after the season, and that "key stakeholders, the (UT) president, the (UT) chancellor, ... board of trustees members'' would be involved.
"It's funny, people think that the athletic director makes these kinds of decisions on their own accord, and it's just not true,'' Hamilton said. "At a place like Tennessee, you don't have that authority, first of all. Certainly you play a great role in those kinds of decisions because it's your job every day of the week, but these are institutional-type decisions ...''
Hamilton refused to reveal his preference on Pearl's future during the interview.
"I don't want to get into specifics. ... any time I say anything specifically about a coach's tenure or contracts, or keeping or not-keeping at a time when you've got critical decisions that are being made, it gets twisted in the wind a million different ways,'' Hamilton said.
"And so, I love Bruce Pearl, I think he's done tremendous things for our basketball program, tremendous things for the Knoxville community, things for our university,'' he said. "But we're also in a very unique situation with what we've gone through ...''
UT is scheduled to go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on June 10-11.
In the interview, Hamilton indicated a decision on Pearl's future could be made before then; the possibility of needing to find a coach is being taken into account.
"When you look at decisions of that nature, or any nature affecting athletics, or in business, frankly, you've got to look at all the mitigating factors, risk-reward factors, and so we look at those kinds of things as well,'' Hamilton said.
Hamilton told the News Sentinel on Jan. 8 in Fayetteville, Ark., that it was UT's intention to keep Pearl so long as "there aren't any major violations we're unaware of,'' even if the NCAA mandated Pearl be suspended for a year.
UT received its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA enforcement staff on Feb. 22.
The only basketball violation the school had not previously made public involved an alleged Sept. 14, 2010, "bump violation,'' most often deemed as secondary in previous cases.
The violation, which two sources close to the investigation have said the school plans to appeal, involved Pearl and associate head coach Tony Jones having an impermissible length of contact with a prospect at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy during a recruiting visit.
The sources asked not to be identified because UT is in its 90-day response window.
"We said we wanted him (Pearl) to be our coach, short of some events that would cause that to not be the case,'' Hamilton said in the radio interview.
"And so, that's the same place and if other events arise that cause a change in opinion or whatever, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.''
The unethical conduct charge against Pearl stems from him not being forthcoming in a June 14, 2010 interview with NCAA investigators about a picture of him taken with a recruit at his home on Sept. 20, 2008.
UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek said in a Nov. 19, 2010 press conference that the school would stand behind Pearl.
"Coach Pearl is our coach,'' Cheek said. "He's going to be our coach for many, many years. We're going to get through this adversity and we're going to be stronger as a result of it.''
Pearl has been working under a Letter of Appointment after receiving notice on Sept. 9, 2010, that his previous contract was being terminated.
Cheek said on Nov. 19 that UT's general counsel was re-working Pearl's contract after its first contract offer to him on Oct. 8 included provisions that both parties deemed inappropriate and/or unnecessary. Pearl returned the first contract offer on Oct. 22.
The unresolved issues in Pearl's contract did not deal with Pearl's salary or bonus clauses, according to university sources familiar with the contract.
The sources asked not to be identified at the time because of the ongoing negotiations.
"Currently it's (the contract) in our general counsel's office and we hope to have that from her very soon,'' Cheek said on Nov. 19. "We will get the contract finalized. We believe we've made the right decision.''
Calls to Cheek were not returned Wednesday.
Hamilton said in the radio interview that the parties couldn't come to a mutual agreement.
"... We ran into a couple of snags on the deal, and we set it aside to finish out the season at this stage,'' Hamilton said. "It wasn't the intent on the front end, but as we got closer to the Notice of Allegations being received that might have been a little bit part of the process
"He had that chance to have had a contract back in November and December, we just never got to the finish line on it,'' he said, "and now we've gotten to the point where we don't feel like we can do that.''