It’s not the Hatfields and the McCoys; it’s the former Tennessee men’s basketball coaching staff embroiled in a family feud of sorts.
Animosity has grown since the June 11 NCAA hearing in Indianapolis, when former Vols coach Bruce Pearl and his assistant coaches — Tony Jones, Jason Shay and Steve Forbes — pleaded their cases before the Committee on Infractions.
Some members of the formerly close-knit staff no longer are on speaking terms after Pearl was hit with a three-year show cause penalty for misleading NCAA investigators, effectively preventing him from getting another collegiate coaching job, while the three assistants were sanctioned with a one-year show causes.
The men have found other employment: Pearl as vice president of Knoxville-based HT Hackney distributors, Jones as Alcoa High School boys’ basketball coach and Forbes and Shay as coach and assistant coach, respectively, at Northwest Florida State College.
But clearly, hard feelings remain.
“When families break up, it’s sad that sometimes these things can happen,’’ Pearl said Wednesday. “Jason and (wife) Jana expected more from the university and they expected more from me, and obviously they are disappointed.’’
Pearl disclosed Wednesday that he stood behind his staff under the duress of the NCAA investigation, declining an official request that he fire one of his assistant coaches. Jones confirmed as much on Wednesday.
“I know that had Bruce kept his job, he had conferred with me about maybe having to make changes on the staff,’’ Jones said. “I’m very surprised Jason would get caught up in this. I think he and his family are really hurt. I mean, talking about having to leave their dog behind in Knoxville? That’s too much; that sounds bitter as hell.
“Bruce Pearl is a friend of mine. I felt he took care of the staff when we worked together, and he did the best he could in giving us a fair severance.’’
One issue raised by the Shays in a story Tuesday by CBSsports.com is the lavish lifestyle the Pearl family seems to be enjoying via Pearl’s $1 million settlement. While Pearl has said he is trying to sell his $2.6 million home to downsize to a lake house, he has taken his family on a beach vacation and visited his family in South Florida and in Boston since his March 21 firing.
“They took five or six vacations, and here we were trying to sell a house and, for me, find my next job,’’ said Shay, who after drawing a salary of about $150,000 at UT makes $20,000 as a junior college assistant. “Watching them go on five or six vacations didn’t go over so well.’’
Jana Shay, who appeared in the background of the now infamous incriminating photo taken of Pearl and then-recruit Aaron Craft at Pearl’s home on Sept. 20, 2008, works as a fifth-grade teacher in Niceville, Fla. She has kept up with the Pearls’ activities via Facebook and told CBSsports.com it has been hard seeing some of the vacation pictures and posts from Pearl’s wife, Brandy.
“I haven’t unfriended her or hidden her (on Facebook) at all, but I’ve wanted to,’’ Jana Shay said. “It’s been hard.’’
The Shay family, which includes two children, have moved into a two-bedroom apartment that doesn’t allow pets. The Shays are renting out their former home and said they were forced to leave their dog behind in Knoxville.
“From this end, it’s business; that was a lesson I had to learn, I guess,’’ Jana Shay told CBSsports.com. “I think Bruce tells people he did the best he could for us, and those who don’t know him probably believe that. I just don’t know that I believe that totally.’’
Pearl said he negotiated the financial settlements for his former assistants as well as possible.
“At one point in the discussion, they weren’t going to get any severance; I had to fight for it,’’ said Pearl, who along with his attorney haggled with former UT athletic director Mike Hamilton and university counsel for hours in multiple March 21 closed-door meetings at Stokely Athletics Center. “I wasn’t happy with the settlements, either, but it was the best I could do.
“We were the third-highest paid coaching staff in the SEC, and based on our success, we were more than fairly compensated. What’s happening now is not a reflection of how well we worked together as a staff and what we accomplished.’’
UT had the winningest record in the SEC during Pearl’s six-year tenure, reaching the school’s first No. 1 ranking ever in 2008, making the school’s first Elite Eight appearance in 2009 and running up a 7-7 record against top-five ranked competition while making a school-record six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Jones, along with Shay and former director of basketball operations Ken Johnson, accompanied Pearl to Knoxville from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where their five years together culminated with the Panthers reaching the Sweet 16 in 2005, sparking UT’s interest.
Jason Shay, whose role on the Vols staff was to prepare the scouting reports for the most challenging opponents, told the News Sentinel on Wednesday the source of his disappointment is not solely his family’s financial or living conditions.
“It’s not all about the money or about where I’m at; I realize the way that (CBSsports.com) story was written, it sounds like we’re upset,’’ Shay said. “It’s about the business decisions Coach (Pearl) made.’’
Specifically, Shay and Forbes have grown irritated with Pearl’s version of the June 14, 2010, testimonies, during which the former staff was found to have not been forthcoming about the picture of Pearl and Craft depicting impermissible contact on Sept. 20, 2008.
The assistant coaches testified before Pearl that day that they could not be certain of the location of the photo. Pearl has since said that had he not denied knowledge of the location of the photo, he would have been putting his assistants in a bad position.
Forbes and Shay have asserted that had they identified the location of the photo, they would have been putting their jobs at risk while rolling on their boss.
“You do that in this business and you’re done. Blackballed,’’ Forbes told CBSsports.com. “You’re not loyal. It was a bad situation, but we should’ve never been in that situation. It was so stupid. It was all just so stupid.’’
Attorney Michael Glazier, who represented UT in its case with the NCAA, had knowledge of the photo six days prior to the coaches being interviewed, but did not share that information with the staff.
Pearl has since said that he and his staff were under the impression the NCAA was coming to interview them about secondary violations involving impermissible phone calls, and had he known the possibility of a major violation existed, he would have retained his own legal counsel.
Both Hamilton and UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek said on more than one occasion they would stand behind Pearl and his staff, so long as there were no more major violations committed that they were unaware of.
When Pearl and his staff were dismissed, UT cited an alleged infraction from the enforcement staff that Pearl and Jones committed a major violation with an impermissible “bump” contact at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy during a September 2010 recruiting visit.
The violation was appealed by UT and Pearl and found not to have merit by the NCAA Committee on Infractions at the June hearing, but the damage was done. Pearl and his staff fired months earlier.
Like Shay, Forbes has financial considerations after leaving behind a $200,000 salary (which was docked 25 percent via a university self-imposed sanction) for a $60,000 job.
“My family is split up for the first time ever,’’ Forbes told CBSsports.com. “My daughter is a senior at Tennessee. She lived at home with us. But now we don’t have her because we don’t live there anymore.’’
Forbes also has a home on the market listed at more than $500,000 in the same neighborhood Hamilton lives in. Hamilton received a settlement worth more than $1 million after resigning the week of the NCAA hearing.
Forbes said he doesn’t concern himself with others, so much as his plight with his Knoxville home.
“I’ve tried to sell it, but I can’t even rent it,’’ Forbes told CBSsports.com. “My monthly check here doesn’t even cover my monthly mortgage payment on that house.’’
Pearl said he reached out to Shay with phone calls and invitations to family events, but Shay did not respond.
“In 19 years as a head coach, I never fired an assistant coach, and what UT decided to do on March 21 was obviously not my choice,’’ Pearl said. “We took great pride in the fact our staff stayed together. Tony, Jason and I were together all 10 years of my Division I coaching, and Steve was with me five of my six years at Tennessee. Prior to this adversity, we were a family, so I’m very disappointed they have chosen to lose contact with me and taken this public stance.’’
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32