I'm a long-time Tennessee fan, a big Bruce Pearl fan, and a blogger. Still, I've held off writing much about the Pearl issue, because I wasn't sure how I felt or if I understood just what happened. With the recent release of additional information about just what Bruce Pearl did, it's time to change that. Here, then, are some thoughts.
When I think about coaches and NCAA rules, I rank the infractions sort of like this, from least worst to most worst:
- The coach unknowingly committed a secondary violation.
- The coach unknowingly committed a major violation.
- The coach knowingly committed a secondary violation.
- The coach knowingly committed a major violation.
- The coach did 3 or 4 multiple times.
- The coach did 3 or 4 then lied about it.
- The coach did 3 or 4 multiple times, then lied about it.
- The coach tried to get others to lie as well.
If you do 1, that probably means you are inexperienced. If you do 2, you're incompetent -- all coaches should know the major violations, without question.
If you do 3, or 4, then you are either desperate, or you don't have a good moral code. Or, you think the rules are a joke, and you see no reason to follow them. Number 5 is just an extension of the problem, writ large.
I knew Pearl had lied -- he said so himself. That moved us to 6, which really bothered me. I wanted to believe that there must be some good reason for Pearl to do this: covering for an assistant, perhaps, or just a momentary lapse of judgment?
This week, though, we learned that not only did Pearl lie about what he did, but he tried to get others to lie as well. He asked the recruits and their families to keep quiet about the visit to his house. In other words, he moved to level 8: knowingly committed a secondary violation, lied about it, and tried to get others to lie as well.
This is bad. This is very, very bad. When your head coach is carrying out a cover-up, how does he continue to be your head coach? How do you trust him? If you're AD Hamilton, how do you not worry about the other shoe dropping at some point?
Bruce Pearl has done amazing things with the men's basketball program. He has taken one of the most moribund programs in the SEC and made it not only relevant, but exciting. I think he really loves being the coach at UT. I think he is, basically, a good person.
So, how much slack do we cut him? And don't give me that crap about "everyone does it." That doesn't wash. Coaches may knowingly commit infractions, especially secondary ones, and hope they don't get caught. Very few of them do so, then lie about it, and contact the recruits and their families and ask them to lie about it as well.
At this point, I don't think Bruce Pearl can be our coach. I don't think the University can overlook the cover-up. I think the punishment to date has been too light.
If I were the president of UT, I'd give Pearl a choice: step down as coach in a voluntary suspension for at least a year, with no pay and no contact with the program, or resign. Either hire a coach to run the program during the suspension, or promote one of the associate coaches for a year. (Or ask Pat Summitt to run both programs for a year!)
Too complicated, you say? Too funky to have him be suspended and supposedly coming back at some point? Too hard on whoever tried to run the program during Pearl's suspension?
Then fire him. Just cut the cord. It's hard, it's sad, it will set the program back a great deal. But just do it.
Otherwise, you're saying that it's okay for coaches to ask 18-year-olds to lie.