Fans react to Tennessee's firing of coach Bruce Pearl
Vol Hoops 2010-2011: Out-Dribbled by Distraction and Disappointment
The Bruce Pearl Era came to a tumultous end on Monday afternoon, when the University of Tennessee informed Pearl he was being fired as men’s basketball coach.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton issued a statement late Monday night indicating the basketball staff committed another violation earlier this month, though the specifics of the violation were not disclosed.
“The cumulative effect of the evolution of the investigation combined with a number of more recent non-NCAA related incidents have led to a belief that this staff cannot be viable at Tennessee in the future,’’ Hamilton’s statement said.
Hamilton said in the release that Pearl will be paid at his current monthly salary of $109,599.40 through June 30, after which he will also receive $50,000 per month for 12 months beginning on July 1 while also receiving health insurance costs. The cumulative figure is $948,728.
Pearl’s three assistants who were also relieved of their duties — Tony Jones, Jason Shay and Steve Forbes — will each be paid at their current salary rate through July 31.
Houston Fancher was promoted to interim coach from his previous position of coordinator of video scouting. Fancher, 45, was coach at Appalachian State from 2000-09 before joining the UT staff as a graduate assistant.
Pearl finishes his six seasons at UT with a 145-61 record, having led the Vols to a school-record six consecutive NCAA tournaments, the most recent coming to an end in a second round 75-45 loss to Michigan in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday.
Pearl’s future with the Vols has been a hot topic since Sept. 10, 2010, when UT received a Letter of Inquiry from the NCAA, and Hamilton revealed Pearl would likely be charged with an unethical conduct violation.
Tennessee’s decision to retain Pearl led to a landslide of criticism and second-guessing from national columnists, radio personalities and television analysts throughout the season.
Pearl, 51, provided false and misleading information to NCAA investigators in a June 14, 2010, interview when asked about a photo of him and then-prospect Aaron Craft taken on Sept. 20, 2008.
At the time the photo was taken, Craft was a high school junior who had made a verbal commitment to attend UT. By NCAA rule, unofficial visitors are not allowed to have off-campus contact with a coaching staff. Current Vols freshman Jordan McRae and Kansas freshman Josh Selby also attended the now infamous barbecue at Pearl’s home.
Pearl received notice that his contract was being terminated on Sept. 9, 2010, and he coached this season working under a Letter of Appointment.
Still, Hamilton insisted it was the school’s intention to stand behind its embattled coach.
UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek weighed in during a Nov. 19 press conference, saying: “Coach Pearl is our coach. 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.’’
Cheek said in a statement issued late Monday night that “the cumulative effect of evolving circumstances” led to the decision to relieve Pearl of his duties.
Numerous twists and turns through the season led to the Pearl saga maintaining national presence.
In November, SEC commissioner Mike Slive took unprecedented action by suspending Pearl for the first half (eight games) of the league season.
UT had self-imposed its own unprecedented penalties on Sept. 10, including Pearl’s salary being reduced by $1.5 million ($500,000 this season), and a one-year off-campus recruiting ban.
On Feb. 23, Tennessee learned the men’s program faced allegations of 10 major violations when the NCAA Enforcement Staff delivered its Notice of Allegations.
The only infraction among the 10 violations that had not been previously disclosed was a so-called “bump violation,’’ which allegedly occurred on Sept. 14 at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy.
According to the enforcement staff, Pearl’s unintentional contact with high school junior Jordan Adams went beyond the acceptable length for happenstance meetings.
Two sources have said UT will appeal the violation.
Tennessee is tentatively scheduled to go before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis on June 10-11.
UT signee Kevin Ware, who requested a release from his National Letter of Intent on Monday, said on March 6 Hamilton told him along with other prospects and their parents that Pearl would be retained as coach.
Hamilton touched off more controversy last Wednesday, when he said in a taped radio interview with Knoxville station WNML that he was unsure if Pearl would return to coach next season.
Many, including the father of UT freshman All-American Tobias Harris, said Hamilton’s comments served as a distraction and led to the loss to Michigan.
“That threw everybody’s psyche off, because all the guys love Bruce Pearl,’’ said Torrel Harris, Tobias’ father. “Mike Hamilton blew them away.’’
Harris, along with other players who have remaining eligibility, met with Hamilton at his office in the Stokely Athletics Center on Monday afternoon with a security guard posted in the hallway.
Jones, Forbes and Shay were also beckoned to Hamilton’s office for a face-to-face firing.
The coaches refused to comment as they exited the building, as did Pearl earlier in the afternoon.
Jones later issued numerous comments through his Twitter account, among them: “Sorry Vol Nation it had to end. I love each and everyone of you to the bottom of my heart.’’
Pearl did not get to meet with all of his players to tell them in person that he had been fired.
Pearl’s accomplishments at UT included a 5-5 record against top five-ranked opponents, the winningest record in SEC play during his tenure (65-31), and the first No. 1 ranking in school history during a school-record 31-win season in 2008.
Departing seniors Brian Williams and John Fields said they were “shocked” by the university’s decision to fire Pearl.
“It is shocking, but I guess in their judgment they did what they thought was best for the university, though I certainly don’t agree,’’ Williams said. “Tennessee basketball won’t be the same, you can be sure about that.’’
Fields said Pearl’s impact was such that he didn’t believe the recent rumors that Pearl would be dismissed.
“I could see how much Coach Pearl did for the community in the year I was here, and just how much he meant to the program and this whole state,’’ said Fields, who transferred to UT from UNC Wilmington last summer.
“You think of that orange blazer, and Tennessee orange, and you think of Coach Pearl. He resurrected this program from nothing.’’