Boy, they sure do know how to pick ’em down there on Rocky Top.
First, Tennessee savior Lane Kiffin, the notorious Oakland Raiders washout with the inability to put his foot in his mouth and penchant for recruiting violations, left Tennessee at the altar for the West Coast. It was a black eye for an athletic department that put all its eggs in one basket. The blow of Kiffin’s gutless departure was softened a bit in March, though, when the men’s basketball team, led by enthusiastic and often shirtless coach Bruce Pearl, made its first ever Elite Eight appearance. The Volunteers’ men’s program finally took a step out of Pat Summit’s shadow.
It seemed hard to fathom Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton could dislike anybody more than he does Kiffin, but after the latest news regarding an NCAA investigation into Pearl surfaced, he just may have taken that honor from Kiffin as Pearl left the university in the streets beaten and bloodied.
The Volunteers men’s basketball program is under investigation for making excessive phone calls to recruits, allowing recruits to exceed official visit time restrictions and meeting with junior recruits at an off-campus site. At least one of those off-campus sites is Pearl’s house, where he hosted a barbecue for three recruits and their families. The barbecue was a violation of NCAA rules and Pearl knew it, and he let all the recruits and their families know it was, too. When NCAA investigators interviewed Pearl this past June, Pearl lied about the barbecue and called one of the recruit’s fathers to remind him to lie if the NCAA contacted him as well.
Maybe even worse, Pearl denied knowing the location of a photograph of him, a recruit and a woman. The picture was taken in Pearl’s kitchen, and the woman was Jana Shay. It must have been the first time Pearl hosted a barbecue or any type of event for friends and staff, because Pearl said he didn’t know who the woman was. Turns out, Jana is the wife of John Shay, who has been an assistant under Pearl for 10 years. How did the public learn about all of this? Well, because a Knoxville, Tenn., television station got hold of the letter of termination Hamilton and Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek sent Pearl on Sept. 9.
“… Chancellor Cheek and I have determined that you engaged in gross misconduct, including dishonesty and other acts involving intolerable behavior,” read Hamilton’s letter to Pearl. “As a result, the University is terminating your Employment Agreement for Adequate Cause.”
Twenty-four hours later, though, Hamilton stood firmly behind his coach and defended Pearl during a press conference, failing to mention anything about the letter sent to Pearl the day before.
“People make mistakes, and we all make them,” Hamilton said at a Sept. 10 press conference. “Bruce made one mistake in this incident, and he came forward to correct it. I’m glad he’s our basketball coach.
“… I hope part of what you get out of this today is this is a person that stood up and did the right thing in the end by coming back forward and saying, ‘I want to correct this.’ ”
Where do we start with all of Mr. Hamilton’s contradictions: that Pearl made just one mistake, that Hamilton is “glad” Pearl is the coach or that Pearl did the right thing?
I guess we’ll start from the top.
Lying about the barbecue isn’t Pearl’s lone incident of knowingly violating NCAA rules. The men’s basketball staff also made 96 impermissible phone calls to recruits, 34 of which came from Pearl, over a two-year period.
Hamilton is proud to have Pearl as coach? It sure doesn’t sound like it from this statement from Hamilton’s letter to Pearl: “On the Effective Date (of termination, Oct. 8, 2010), you will become an employee at-will with no definite term of employment.” Pearl is currently without a contract and his new one will be at a reduced salary. Last, Hamilton said Pearl did the right thing. I won’t even spend a sentence debunking that statement, as it would be an insult to my readers’ intelligence.
Not only is it a time to change its men’s basketball coach, now it’s time for Tennessee to change the words to its famous renditions of “Rocky Top” after Pearl put the Vols in hot water.
Ain’t no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top; Ain’t no telephone bills.