Vol Hoops 2010-2011: Out-Dribbled by Distraction and Disappointment
The discussion of Bruce Pearl's job security has been a speculative one. The conversation now has a little more definition.
Pearl's boss, Mike Hamilton, went public Wednesday with what will widely be construed as a diminished show of support.
While Pearl and his Tennessee basketball team were en route to Charlotte to begin the NCAA tournament, Hamilton told Jimmy Hyams of WNML in a taped interview that he didn't know if Pearl would be UT's coach next year or not.
Or next month, for that matter.
Pearl's future at Tennessee has been clouded since the September revelation of allegations of major NCAA violations, including Pearl lying to investigators.
But Hamilton, UT's men's athletic director, said then he wanted to keep Pearl on board and he hadn't really said anything different since.
"We've said we want him to be our coach, short of events that cause that not to be the case,'' Hamilton told Hyams in the interview taped on Tuesday. "That's the same place.''
It doesn't sound like the same place.
What I heard before sounded like:
He's our coach long-term and we'll get through this together, even if there's a one-year suspension.
What I hear now sounds like:
He's our coach through the NCAA tournament, then we'll see.
UT got its official notice of allegations last month. The Vols plead their case before the Committee on Infractions in June. The committee has a minimum of 60 days to render a verdict.
So if justice moves swiftly the NCAA would announce penalties against Pearl and the program in August. Connecticut's recent case, however, took roughly twice that long.
Replacing a basketball coach - if it comes to that - in August or later would be unwieldy.
Hamilton has already had to make one rushed hire when football Lane Kiffin bolted in mid-January 2010. Finding a high-level basketball coach in August or September would be even harder than hiring a football coach in January.
If you're going to hire a basketball coach, March is the time.
"We'll decide after we're out of the NCAA tournament what the direction is we're going to go next,'' Hamilton said.
"That will either be a decision we'll make in the short term or wait and make it a little bit further down the road.
"But the jury's out on what's going to happen with that at this point.''
If UT has stuck by Pearl since the mess started last summer, doesn't it owe him the courtesy to see the process through, as long as that might take?
If not, what has changed?
It could be the alleged "bump" recruiting violation at Oak Hill Academy in September, four days after Pearl's tearful apology. Even if UT beats that rap, the perception was damaging.
It could be the pragmatic reality that jettisoning Pearl before the June hearing would mitigate basketball penalties, just as Kiffin's convenient absence lessened NCAA charges against football.
Or it could be going 12-14 after a 7-0 start, including a mystifying 3-5 SEC home record.
The negativity perpetuated by Pearl's situation, Hamilton conceded, "has had a wearing effect" on the coaches, team, administration and fan base.
In light of Hamilton's interview, why should a weekend in Charlotte be any different?