National Columnist

It's painful to say, but Tennessee's Pearl must go


Hate Mail: Tar Heel tough guy edition

Tennessee has to fire basketball coach Bruce Pearl, and I say that with some regret. Honest to God, I like Bruce Pearl. Not from afar. Not from what I've seen on television. I've visited with him on the telephone and in person. I know Bruce Pearl, and I like him.

And still, Tennessee has to fire him.

Bruce Pearl's web of lies to the NCAA should be his downfall in Knoxville. (US Presswire)  
Bruce Pearl's web of lies to the NCAA should be his downfall in Knoxville. (US Presswire)  
Please understand, this is not a cold-blooded call for a man's dismissal. You want to see one of those? Fine, here you go:

Tennessee also should fire athletic director Mike Hamilton. Him, I don't like. Him, I don't respect. Between the Dumb and Dumber football coaches he has hired, and the bogus sneaker-related hiring firm he paid to help him "find" Bruce Pearl in 2005, Mike Hamilton is one of the most inept, disingenuous college administrators I've ever seen. His football program is a joke. His basketball program is in major trouble with the NCAA. And he's the guy who hired every coach involved.

Mike Hamilton needs to go on general principle.

Bruce Pearl needs to go because he lied to the NCAA. And because he then lied about why he lied to the NCAA.

The whole thing started when Pearl broke a relatively minor NCAA rule on recruiting in 2008. That was the year, according to college basketball expert Gary Parrish, that Pearl entertained several recruits -- high school juniors -- at his house. Problem is, high school juniors aren't allowed in a college coach's house. High school seniors? Sure. But a high school junior? No way.

Pearl knew that rule -- it's one of the more basic rules in the NCAA's enormous rulebook -- and he broke it anyway. That's bad, but it's forgivable.

When the NCAA caught wind of the violation and asked Pearl about it, he lied. He was shown a photograph of the recruits standing in his house, and he was asked, "Where was this picture taken?" Pearl looked at that picture, and he lied. He told the NCAA he didn't know where that picture had been taken.

That's bad, and it's unforgivable. You don't lie to the NCAA, ever, but you damn sure don't lie to the NCAA when you've cheated and are trying to get away with it. Well, you don't lie in those circumstances and then realistically ask for forgiveness, as Pearl did last week.

Bruce Pearl under fire
Gary Parrish Gary Parrish
The problem isn't just that Bruce Pearl lied. It's that he lied about something that wasn't worth lying about. More >>

Especially when you lie about the circumstances.

When he admitted his transgression at a news conference, Pearl basically said he had come clean to the NCAA because he knew lying was a mistake.

When the truth is, Pearl came clean because he knew he had been busted.

According to a source close to the situation -- really close; I mean, really, really close -- Pearl discovered almost immediately that his lie hadn't fooled anyone. The NCAA had already talked to other witnesses before talking to Pearl. That question the NCAA asked, wondering where the picture had been taken? The NCAA knew the answer before it asked Pearl the question. That's what Pearl discovered. He realized he had told the wrong lie to the wrong people.

Rather than wait for the NCAA to drop the hammer on him for lying, Pearl came clean. But not because of his conscience, as he told everybody last week. No. He came clean because he had no other choice.

This isn't semantics -- this is everything. Not to be all naïve about sports, but a college coach stands for more than wins and losses, which Pearl has done at a 126-46 level in five seasons at Tennessee. There is also leadership and mentorship. There is accountability.

And Bruce Pearl has shown none of it. At best he is a liar. At worst he is a pathological liar. Either way, he has to be fired.

And if Mike Hamilton won't do it, Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek needs to fire Pearl. And then he needs to fire Hamilton.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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