CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton apologized to Vols men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl for untimely remarks he made about the uncertainty of Pearl's future with the program.
Two sources, who asked to remain anonymous because of UT's ongoing evaluation of Pearl, said the first contact from Hamilton to Pearl took place via phone before the team arrived in Charlotte for its opening game in the NCAA tournament on Friday.
Two other sources said that Hamilton apologized later Wednesday at a UT staff dinner in Charlotte. The sources asked not to be identified because of the ongoing evaluation of the basketball staff.
Tennessee is tentatively scheduled to go before the NCAA Committee on Infractions on June 10-11, and the basketball program faces an alleged 10 violations, including an unethical conduct charge levied against Pearl.
Hamilton revealed in an interview taped on Tuesday and aired Wednesday on Knoxville radio station WNML that he was unsure if Pearl would be retained as UT's head coach, and that Pearl would be evaluated after the season.
It was an abrupt departure from the previous stance Hamilton and UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek had taken on Pearl's future, as both had indicated Pearl would be retained as head coach so long as the NCAA investigation revealed no new major violations.
Pearl would only say in Thursday's NCAA tournament press conference at Time Warner Cable Arena that “I think Mike would have preferred for it to not come out like this.''
Ninth-seeded Tennessee (19-14) plays No. 8-seed Michigan (20-13) at 12:40 p.m. on Friday in a second-round NCAA tournament game (TV: truTV).
The majority of questions Pearl and his players fielded on Thursday involved Hamilton's radio comments and Pearl's future as head coach.
“We are trying to focus on student athletes,'' Pearl said. “I need to insulate them from what we can't control and move forward.''
UT senior center Brian Williams said the players are trying to keep their focus on the upcoming game.
“Obviously, all of us watch SportsCenter, ESPN,'' Williams said. “We focus on the task at hand. That's winning the basketball game and nothing else.''
Williams said the NCAA investigation and ongoing case – which became public at a Sept. 10, 2010 press conference announcing that UT had received a letter of inquiry – has not been something Pearl has discussed much with the team.
“I think the whole season he might have addressed us twice about the situation going on with him,'' Williams said. “Coach did, I think, a terrific job of keeping that away from us.''
Vols junior Cameron Tatum remains optimistic Pearl will return to coach him in his senior year.
“I fully anticipate Coach Pearl to be back next year,'' Tatum said. “As all my teammates said earlier, we can only worry about and control what we do in between those lines and focus on the preparation for the games.''
Pearl said he had only himself to blame for the current circumstance.
“I was the one that broke these rules, not Mike Hamilton, not our chancellor and not these student athletes,'' Pearl said. “So I put myself in this position.
“When you put yourself in the position where you provide false and misleading information to the NCAA and you go through an NCAA investigation, you put yourself in a position where you're going to be evaluated at the end of the year,'' Pearl said. “And so that's what our status is. The announcement yesterday publicly came as a bit of a surprise, but if that's where we are, then that's where we're at...''
Pearl, who has been working under a letter of appointment since being informed his contract was being terminated on Sept. 9, 2010, was asked if he knew why Hamilton said UT felt it could not continue negotiations to sign Pearl to a new contract.
“That's something you would have to talk to Mike about,'' Pearl said.
Hamilton has not returned numerous phone calls from the News Sentinel and has not spoken publicly since taping the aforementioned radio interview.
Mike Strange contributed to this report.
Mike Griffith will be live blogging the Tennessee-Michigan game beginning at 12:30 p.m., Friday, at http://blogs.knoxnews.com/askgriff