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A Tennessee basketball player received extra tickets to UT's March 6 home game against Kentucky, and that constituted a secondary violation by the coaching staff, according to a source with knowledge of the infraction.
According to the source, who requested anonymity because the details haven't been made public, the infraction was handled internally, with the price of the tickets reimbursed by the player.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said in a statement released late Monday on the firing of coach Bruce Pearl that the violation occurred earlier this month.
Student athletes have a restricted allotment of tickets for each UT home game.
Hamilton fired Pearl and his assistants - Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay - on Monday.
Director of basketball operations Ken Johnson and assistant to the head coach Marc Pancratz also were relieved of their duties.
Houston Fancher, formerly the coordinator of video scouting, was named interim coach.
Hamilton's statement said that the search process for a new coach is under way.
"This is a great job and will attract a significant number of interested coaches,'' Hamilton said.
UT senior associate athletic director Chris Fuller and UT associate athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois will take active roles in the coaching search along with Hamilton, and university chancellor Jimmy Cheek will oversee the process, according to a source in the UT athletic department. The source requested anonymity because the university has not released details about how it will conduct the search.
Fuller, Reed-Francois and Hamilton did not return phone calls placed by the News Sentinel on Tuesday.
Virginia Commonwealth University coach Shaka Smart was non-committal when asked Tuesday on ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" show about the speculation of job openings, specifically Tennessee's.
"Everyone in our program knows that we have a job to do, and that stuff couldn't be any further from our mind as we go into the Sweet 16,'' Smart said.
Smart, 33, has led the Rams (26-11) to the first Sweet 16 in program history in his second season at VCU.
Other speculation came from numerous media outlets and national bloggers that involved a name familiar with UT fans.
Lawrence Frank, an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics and a former coach of the New Jersey Nets (2004-09), served as an assistant coach with the Vols from 1995-97, when Kevin O'Neill was coach.
Frank, 40, won his first 13 games with the Nets after being hired midway through the 2003-04 season, setting an NBA record for most consecutive wins to begin a coaching career. Frank was fired after an 0-16 start to the 2009-10 season, finishing 225-241 in his six-plus seasons at New Jersey.
Hamilton's statement said that in addition to the "additional violations" - an alleged Sept. 14 bump violation and the secondary violation involving tickets to the UT-Kentucky game - "a number of more recent non-NCAA-related incidents" led to the staff's firing.
ESPN.com reported late Monday that the non-NCAA related incident was a violation of the UT substance abuse policy by senior center Brian Williams. Williams missed the last two games of the regular season with a bad back, according to Pearl and Williams.
Williams, who had reoccurring back problems throughout his career, said he tweaked his back in a Feb. 26 loss to Mississippi State, and he didn't practice from Feb. 27 through March 6.
The speculation that Williams missed the two games because of a violation of UT's substance abuse policy has trickled down from the ESPN.com report to the UT basketball players.
"I was listening to the Sports Animal (WNML) today, and the fans were just killing Brian,'' said departing UT senior John Fields. "If that stuff really happened, that's news to everybody on the team.
"We saw Brian getting treatment on his back every day.''