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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Pearl's ill-timed lies result in self-inflicted wounds

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Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl's job security has never been more in question than it is today mostly because he provided "incorrect and misleading information" to the NCAA about illegally hosting recruits at his home in 2008. This revelation -- first reported by CBSSports.com -- has caused many to claim the episode is further proof that coaches should never, under any circumstances, lie to the NCAA when questioned about possible rules violations.

But that's just as much of a lie as Pearl's lie.

Bruce Pearl should know that confession is good for the soul only if it is also good for job security. (Getty Images)  
Bruce Pearl should know that confession is good for the soul only if it is also good for job security. (Getty Images)  
The truth is that there's a time and place for everything -- lying included. In fact, lying can, in many cases, be among the most important prerequisites to being a successful high-major coach, sad as that is to type. Which is why the issue here isn't that Pearl lied to the NCAA as much as it's that Pearl lied to the NCAA about something that wasn't worth lying about. I've spoken with countless coaches over the past week, and almost none of them are talking about "Bruce Pearl the Cheater" because coaches know their business better than anybody, and they know that, in the grand scheme of things, hosting recruits illegally at your home isn't a major transgression.

Is it wrong?

Yes.

Is it stupid?

Hell yes.

But in a world where agents are indirectly funding summer teams and thus controlling recruits, which leads to programs having to work through agents to get recruits, having three high school juniors -- who were all at the time committed to Tennessee -- over to the house for whatever reason isn't the worst thing a coach has ever done. That's why I'm not hearing nearly as many "Bruce Pearl the Cheater" comments as I am "Bruce Pearl the Idiot" comments.

First question: Why would Pearl have those kids there?

Second question: Why would Pearl take a picture with one of them?

Third question: Why would Pearl lie to the NCAA when presented with the picture?

I've been asked all three of those questions multiple times, and my answers tend to range from "I don't know" to "I have no idea." As the conversations extend, what I've found is that most coaches don't seem offended by what Pearl did, just baffled by why he did it and then lied about it to the NCAA. Everybody agrees it's senseless to lie to the NCAA about something so relatively minor -- especially when it happened in what sources have told CBSSports.com was a house full of witnesses, especially when the NCAA has photographic evidence of a clear-cut violation.

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That's just crazy.

Which is not to suggest it's crazy to lie to the NCAA.

That's the real point I'm trying to make in this column.

If the NCAA asks about paying prospects, about committing academic fraud or about improper dealings with an agent, you better deny all charges -- even if that means lying -- because the end result is the same. Lie about those things and get caught, and, obviously, you're done. But you're also done if you admit to them. So it's best to just deny till the end and hope for the best, which is an approach that worked nicely for former Southern California coach Tim Floyd, who is now gainfully employed at UTEP. Meantime, former Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien has never been able to break back into the business -- not because somebody said he paid a prospect, but because he acknowledged paying a prospect when the NCAA investigated his program.

O'Brien should've crossed his fingers and lied.

I've always believed that.

I've told O'Brien that.

But Pearl?

He should not have lied, at least not about this. Again, there's a time and place for everything -- lying included. But history suggests almost any violation other than paying prospects, committing academic fraud, and conducting improper dealings with agents can be absorbed as long as you're truthful when approached by the NCAA. Pearl wasn't truthful when approached by the NCAA, so now his future is uncertain. But let's not twist that into a dialogue that suggests Pearl's biggest misstep was lying, because that's not exactly true. His biggest misstep, more specifically, was lying about something that wasn't worth lying about, and that's what turned a bit story into something that's been creating headlines for seven days and counting, what pushed a seemingly safe coach into a place where some columnists and fans are calling for his job.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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