College Basketball Insider

Wichita State gives Steve Forbes the second chance he deserves

Gregg Marshall is bringing on Steve Forbes after the former Tennessee coach was forced out of D-I for a year. (USATSI)
Gregg Marshall is bringing on Steve Forbes after the ex-Vols coach was forced out of D-I for a year. (USATSI)

It was never Steve Forbes' idea to invite recruits to a cookout in September 2008 that was in violation of NCAA bylaws. And the cookout wasn't at his home. And it wasn't him in that incriminating picture with Aaron Craft, either. But none of that prevented Forbes from being fired from Tennessee in March 2011 -- along with head coach Bruce Pearl and the rest of the staff -- once it became clear the NCAA would eventually charge Pearl with unethical conduct. So Forbes found himself unemployed and essentially banned from Division I basketball, at which point he took a job at Northwest Florida State and coached junior college for a fraction of the salary he'd been earning in Knoxville.

Forbes won 66 games the past two seasons at Northwest Florida State.

He made the national title game twice.

But the desire, for a variety of reasons, was always to return to Division I, and now that's happening. Forbes told CBSSports.com on Monday that he's accepted an offer to join the staff at Wichita State. So good for Steve Forbes. And good on Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall and the school's administration for their willingness to look past the fact that Forbes was part of a staff that was fired because of NCAA violations and instead focus on the details, which suggest Forbes was placed in an impossible situation on that morning in June 2010 when a NCAA investigator presented him with a photo of Pearl and Craft that was taken at Pearl's home during the now infamous cookout.

These were Forbes' options on that day:

1. Tell the truth

But telling the truth would've required him to blow the whistle on Pearl, to basically rat on his boss, and there is nothing in this world an assistant can do that's worse than ratting on his boss. Even if the Tennessee staff would've survived the NCAA investigation, Forbes wouldn't have. Pearl, like any other coach, would've fired him for being disloyal, and then no other coach would've ever hired him because what kind of coach wants a rat on his staff? So telling the truth wasn't a realistic option, which is why Forbes didn't take that path and instead decided to ...

2. Play dumb and be evasive

Forbes never blatantly lied to the investigator, but he certainly wasn't forthcoming. He tried everything he could to avoid acknowledging that, yes, Craft and other recruits had been at Pearl's home in violation of NCAA bylaws. Forbes even suggested the picture might've been photoshopped because there were lots of pictures on the Internet of Pearl and other people that had been photoshopped. Forbes knew, deep down, that this approach almost certainly wouldn't work. But he figured it was better than ratting on his boss. So it's the approach he took, for better or worse.

Nine months later, Forbes was unemployed.

His family was uprooted.

His home in Knoxville nearly went into foreclosure.

And though he was only given a one-year show-cause penalty that expired last August (Pearl, by comparison, got a three-year show-cause penalty), Forbes was actually forced to spend more than two years out of Division I, and getting back in has been difficult despite countless friendships developed over the past two decades.

"Every job I've ever wanted [in my career] was hard to get, no matter when or where," Forbes told CBSSports.com on Monday. "The difference this time around is that public perception played a much larger role than it ever did before, and that's why I'm indebted to Coach Marshall and the WSU administration for believing in me."

Yes, Forbes is forever indebted.

He's replacing K.T. Turner (now an assistant at SMU) and joining a program that was, three months ago, competing against Louisville, Michigan and Syracuse in the Final Four. So it's a nice landing spot for the former Tennessee assistant. It's also one he deserved.

 
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