Bruce Pearl, Jimmy Collins, find closure in Big Easy

Feud ends over 1989 recruit Thomas

Bruce Pearl depicted a chance meeting with former Illinois men's basketball assistant and University of Illinois-Chicago coach Jimmy Collins Friday in New Orleans as "two old coaches who had a run-in 23 years ago getting some closure."

Pearl and Collins, both in the Crescent City for the unofficial coaches' convention that is the Final Four, were involved in a now-infamous NCAA tangle in 1989 triggered when Pearl, then an assistant coach at Iowa, accused Collins, then an assistant at Illinois, of trying to lure recruit Deon Thomas with promises of money and a vehicle.

"I saw Jimmy just before dinner about 7 p.m. on Friday; I put my hand out, and he shook it," Pearl, the former Tennessee men's basketball coach, said Sunday. "I told him I'm really sorry about what we all went through, and that Deon Thomas was a victim and there were a lot of victims.

"My apology was it was unfortunate it happened, and it hurt people, ultimately, including me."

Pearl was fired on March 21, 2011, after six seasons at UT, as a result of the cumulative effect of an NCAA investigation that turned up multiple recruiting-related violations, according to then-Vols athletic director Mike Hamilton.

Collins spoke out during Pearl's NCAA ordeal at UT, telling the USA Today in a telephone interview for a story published on Sept. 20, 2010, that "what goes around comes around."

Pearl's submission of a secretly taped phone call between him and Thomas,

led to a lengthy NCAA investigation into the Illinois basketball program and a rift between Pearl and Collins.

The two men later coached against each other as rivals in the Horizon League when Pearl was head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2001-05) and Collins was at UIC (1996-2010).

According to several publications, ESPN commentator Dick Vitale referred to Pearl submitting the tape to the NCAA as "career suicide," suggesting an unspoken oath among coaches not to turn one another in for violations.

Indeed, Pearl wasn't hired as a head coach at the Division I level until after a successful nine-year stint at Division II Southern Indiana. It took four more years at mid-major Wisconsin-Milwaukee — and a trip to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 — before Pearl landed his first job at a major conference school.

Pearl said Sunday he "wasn't trying to hurt the University of Illinois," but he was "trying to right a wrong" when he turned in Collins for putting his school (Iowa) at a recruiting disadvantage.

Pearl said his Friday apology wasn't for what he did, so much as for the unfortunate circumstances it brought about.

The NCAA report ultimately cleared Collins of Pearl's allegation, but Illinois was found guilty of other violations and penalized.

Collins spoke to ESPNChicago.com about his meeting with Pearl in New Orleans in a story published online Saturday evening.

" ... I looked up, he was walking toward me," Collins told ESPNChicago.com. "When he got to me, he started to apologize for what had happened. He made it clear that he was young and didn't understand things. He ended up saying he really felt bad because he knew Deon Thomas got hurt.

"The truth of the matter was it was fine. It was a guy who had gone through some changes, and as he's gotten older, he realized some things were wrong, and he apologized for it."

Collins told ESPNChicago.com he holds no grudge.

"I let it go; there's nothing I can do with what happened then," he said. "I'm not going around with a lot of hate in my heart. I'm not going to hold a grudge all your life."

Pearl said he didn't think the feud affected the coaches in their head-to-head meetings.

"I always respected how Jimmy coached, and our issues never transcended onto the court," Pearl said. "But we'd had a fairly public incident on national TV after we beat them where he refused to shake my hand. I'm hoping this brings some closure."

Collins told ESPNChicago.com that he ran into Deon Thomas after meeting Pearl on Friday night, and told him of Pearl's apology.

"Deon's one of the nicest people you'll meet in life," Collins said. "He didn't want to elaborate on it one way or another. He just said okay."

Thomas, who finished his career at Illinois (1990-94) as the Illini's all-time leading scorer and enjoyed a successful playing career overseas, is now the director of athletics and men's basketball coach at Lewis & Clark community college.

Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32

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Comments » 27

orangebrownie writes:

As somebody who grew up in Champaign I have to point out that Bruce Pearls big crime in this whole thing is that he doctored the tapes that he turned in. Shaking somebody's hand but saying you don't apologize for what you did is the sort of class this man has. I'm glad we're rid of this scumbag and i can root for Tennessee basketball again

LiveFaith writes:

Is this yet another AF article? It's getting hard to tell.

keepitreal4vols writes:

Lets cut the crapp...if Pearl wanted to apologize, why wait 23 years.
And Dick Vitale doesn't deserve a tenth of the credit he gets.

cpasteve writes:

How touching.

jobrando#216494 writes:

whens orange/white game this year

VolGrad writes:

Move along; move along. Nothing here to see.

ArmyDad writes:

Another story about Bruce Pearl? So, are you guys trying to catch up with the number of stories you have written about Phillip Fulmer after his departure from UT?

It's time to move on. Neither Pearl nor Fulmer coach at UT any longer. They are old news.

jpark001 writes:

in response to orangebrownie:

As somebody who grew up in Champaign I have to point out that Bruce Pearls big crime in this whole thing is that he doctored the tapes that he turned in. Shaking somebody's hand but saying you don't apologize for what you did is the sort of class this man has. I'm glad we're rid of this scumbag and i can root for Tennessee basketball again

Yep. Pearl turned over to the NCAA a six minute recording of a 14 minute phone (phone records obtained by NCAA) conversation and refused to provide the NCAA with an unedited copy when asked. Also didn't help Pearl that he called Deon Thomas nine times in the previous 48 hours aka stalking a 17 year old for what purpose? An apology here is a little late but better than never I guess.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

Interesting...Pearl's actions helped bring down a good thing at Illinois. On the other hand, Pearl's actions help bring down a good thing at Tennessee. As for Dick Vitale, he needs to shut his face! It was widely known that he was a cheater while coaching. Not sure why he has to weigh in.

arkyvol writes:

bruce reminds me of richard nixon: brilliance without character. it always seems to catch up in the end.

GerryOP writes:

Pearl and Nixon. Actually, that's not a bad comparison.

orangebrownie writes:

The whole situation was incredibly messed up. I also point out that Jimmy Collins and Deon Thomas both passed lie detector tests proving their innocence. I guess Pearl got away with lying to the NCAA once and thought he could do it again. A scumbag is still a scumbag. 23 years can't fix character

JDL211 writes:

in response to GerryOP:

Pearl and Nixon. Actually, that's not a bad comparison.

Pearl and Nixon with a large doze of George Costanza. This wasn't closure by any stretch. It was Pearl telling the same lie he has been telling for 23 years.

samvol writes:

umm...yay? :/

SevenT writes:

I thought Tennessee was a perfect place to sweaty, lying-cheat, slimball Bruce Pearl. On Rocky Top the AD office just looks the other way as long as you are winning, selling tickets and bringing in TV money.

Just Saying.

brod writes:

why don't they put out an article on a former player, not a former coach. where is scotty hopson now? where is tyler smith now, where is bobby maze now? why all the stuff about pearl?

mac_b_from_tn writes:

in response to brod:

why don't they put out an article on a former player, not a former coach. where is scotty hopson now? where is tyler smith now, where is bobby maze now? why all the stuff about pearl?

I'm not sure this article's author is capable of going two weeks without writing about Mr. Pearl.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SevenT:

I thought Tennessee was a perfect place to sweaty, lying-cheat, slimball Bruce Pearl. On Rocky Top the AD office just looks the other way as long as you are winning, selling tickets and bringing in TV money.

Just Saying.

"Just saying" is right, in terms of figuratively filling the air with hot, humid bad breath while signifying nothing. All of your comments say much more about you than they do about anything to do with the reality of UT. Just saying.

orangebrownie writes:

in response to SevenT:

I thought Tennessee was a perfect place to sweaty, lying-cheat, slimball Bruce Pearl. On Rocky Top the AD office just looks the other way as long as you are winning, selling tickets and bringing in TV money.

Just Saying.

A UK fan talking about hiring a scumbag coach? You hired the only coach to have final fours vacated at multiple schools. When he coached in the pros where everybody pays their players he was horrible. Enjoy your victory tonight if you get it because 3 years from now it'll be vacated as well.

Just Saying.

HopeisNotaCourseofAction writes:

Vitale has his nose so far up calipari's butt I do not know how he would know about coaching suicide or anything else. His comments last year about Pearl were always critical and to each his own, but he always showers glowing praise on calicheater, cuz that's one of his boys. His notion of who is ethical and who is not is based solely on his friendships vs the facts of each situation or person's actions.

The uk repeater cheater has been caught leading 2 dirty programs, the schools having to forfeit tourney games, etc after he moved on, but ole Vitale thinks cali is hot shizam. Mute button anytime that bald headed bugg eyed hypocritical self appointed morals expert opens his trap...baaabeee.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Does it never stop?

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to HopeisNotaCourseofAction:

Vitale has his nose so far up calipari's butt I do not know how he would know about coaching suicide or anything else. His comments last year about Pearl were always critical and to each his own, but he always showers glowing praise on calicheater, cuz that's one of his boys. His notion of who is ethical and who is not is based solely on his friendships vs the facts of each situation or person's actions.

The uk repeater cheater has been caught leading 2 dirty programs, the schools having to forfeit tourney games, etc after he moved on, but ole Vitale thinks cali is hot shizam. Mute button anytime that bald headed bugg eyed hypocritical self appointed morals expert opens his trap...baaabeee.

Again, Vitale needs to shut his mouth! Perhaps he likes pointing the finger at Pearl, but he didn't like it when the NCAA was on his arse for his recruitment of Moses Malone to Detroit U. Vitale is a chump! And yes, I'm sure he would gladly toss salads for Coach K, anyone who coaches UNC, and Calapari.

hueypilot writes:

All the Illinois people say Pearl lied, all the Iowa people say Hinson and Collins lied. Seriously, do any of you think that the kid wasn't offered a car and cash? Is that so far out of the realm of the possible? This smacks of the old Bama chant that they weren't mad at Fulmer cause he told the truth to the NCAA, they're mad at Fulmer cause they got caught cheating.

And as for Vitale? Does that put him in the same "no snitch" club as Warren Sapp? If so he belongs there.

Bubba_Knows writes:

in response to GerryOP:

Pearl and Nixon. Actually, that's not a bad comparison.

Richard Nixon is to this day the brightest President this country has ever known. He read EVERYTHING that came across his desk - no other President could even do that. Like so many geniuses his paranoid behavior led to his demise. To compare Pearl to Nixon is a joke! Pearl is no Nixon.

Bubba_Knows writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

Again, Vitale needs to shut his mouth! Perhaps he likes pointing the finger at Pearl, but he didn't like it when the NCAA was on his arse for his recruitment of Moses Malone to Detroit U. Vitale is a chump! And yes, I'm sure he would gladly toss salads for Coach K, anyone who coaches UNC, and Calapari.

Heh Dickey V! Look at me! I can really shoot the rock!

Colliervol writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

Lets cut the crapp...if Pearl wanted to apologize, why wait 23 years.
And Dick Vitale doesn't deserve a tenth of the credit he gets.

You are being awfully generous to Vitale.

He is an embarrassment to college basketball with the way he defends and lauds some coaches and programs. Many of the ones he brown noses are the very one who have hurt the game the most. (Kentucky and Syracuse, are you listening?)

RememberWhen writes:

some people just can't stop trying to buy their way into heaven.....

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