Fans react to Tennessee's firing of coach Bruce Pearl
Vol Hoops 2010-2011: Out-Dribbled by Distraction and Disappointment
Before the University of Tennessee fired men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl on Monday, it was headed down a largely unprecedented path toward a June meeting with the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
Now, after parting ways with the popular Pearl, the UT athletic department is like almost every school that has stared down major violations and an appointment with the NCAA's punishment arm: Unattached to the person or people who got it there in the first place.
UT confirmed Pearl and his staff's dismissal late Monday, and also revealed that Pearl committed a new NCAA violation this month.
"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," UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said in a statement. "Therefore, it is in the best interests of our institution to move in a different direction."
Pearl will receive his monthly salary rate of $109,599.40 through June 30 and will also receive $50,000 per month for 12 months starting July 1. UT will also pay Pearl's health insurance costs. The total amount UT will pay Pearl will be $948,728. His three assistant coaches will be paid through July 2011.
Monday marked the end of Pearl's six-year run with the Vols, but he and UT are far from the finish line when it pertains to what punishments and sanctions will come as a result of a 22-month NCAA investigation.
Pearl, who is linked to 10 major violations with the men's program, including a charge of unethical conduct, would be the rare exception if he escapes the NCAA investigation, which has hovered over the program for the past two years, without a show-cause penalty. Nineteen of the past 20 coaches or administrators who have been charged with unethical conduct have received at least a two-year show-cause penalty, one of the NCAA's strongest methods of punishment in its enforcement arsenal.
If Pearl receives a show-cause penalty, he will be hindered in his pursuit of another NCAA coaching job. If a university wanted to hire Pearl, it would have to "show cause" to the NCAA for its decision and would likely have to inherit the sanctions and restrictions levied against him.
Of the past 35 NCAA infractions cases that resulted in a former coach or administrator receiving a show-cause penalty, only one - a Division II cross-country coach - retained his or her original job, according to a News Sentinel search of the NCAA's legislative services database. In fact, the person or people at fault in those cases were already "former coaches" or "former administrators" before their respective institutions either met with the NCAA Committee on Infractions or settled with a summary disposition.
"If you stand by your man, then you do risk the potential for further institutional penalties or institutional restrictions that you might otherwise not face had the individual been released or moved on to a different institution," said Mike Ermert, a Birmingham, Ala., based attorney who represented the University of Alabama in a 1994 case against the NCAA.
"That's why you've seen in cases over the years where institutions have let coaches go or have let administrators go as part of a self-imposed penalty."
Pearl's firing was simply the latest self-imposed penalty UT enacted since September, when news broke that Pearl had misled NCAA investigators in a June interview. Pearl's contract was terminated, his salary was reduced by $1.5 million over the next five seasons and he was banned from off-campus recruiting for a year, effective Sept. 24, 2010. Two months later, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive suspended Pearl for eight of 16 conference games.
The latest action by UT was obviously the most severe, but it's uncertain what sort of effect it will have on the punishments and sanctions the university could receive after its June 10-11 hearing with the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis.
"The fact that you've got this intentional violation, then subsequent violations and you have continued employment of the coach certainly is an issue the enforcement staff and infractions committee would have potentially dealt with more harshly absent of the dismissal of the coach," Ermert said. "But I don't think this is a get-out-of-jail free card by any stretch."
The Committee on Infractions is a 10-member panel that features athletic administrators, attorneys and league commissioners from across the country and delivers the final verdict on major NCAA infractions cases. It is a separate, distinct entity from the NCAA enforcement committee, with whom UT's compliance staff has been in constant contact since the beginning of the investigation and more so between the time UT received a Letter of Inquiry in September and when the NCAA's Notice of Allegations landed in its mailbox last month.
According to NCAA bylaws 32.8.8 and 188.8.131.52, "ex parte communication" between the Committee on Infractions and the NCAA enforcement staff or the school at fault's compliance staff is prohibited. That means if Hamilton, UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek or the university's lawyers received advice regarding the potential ramifications of keeping Pearl, it wasn't from the people who will ultimately decide its fate.
"It is unlikely that the university will be told 'If you do A, B and C, then you don't have to worry about D, E and F,' " Ermert said.
As of Feb. 24, UT had spent $193,106.24 on outside legal counsel for the NCAA investigation, according to UT.