Curiosity about the amoral Tennessee men's basketball program gave way to puzzlement a long time ago. Now, disbelief is setting in.
Months after the story broke, and four days after the NCAA bluntly identified Tennessee's Bruce Pearl as a cheater and liar -- he lied to the NCAA about cheating -- the Volunteers still have a basketball coach named "Bruce Pearl." I'm assuming it's the same guy, though a quick Google search revealed at least 50 people with that name in the United States. Maybe the Volunteers found another one. It had better be, or the NCAA is going to come down so hard on the Vols basketball program that it might just forget about Tennessee's football violations.
|Not many coaches survive the kind of major violations that Bruce Pearl has admitted making. (Getty Images)|
Nah! That can't be Tennessee's end game here, because that would be giving the UT athletic director -- impossibly, it's still Mike Hamilton -- way too much credit. Hamilton is so unskilled that he needed the greasiest search firm in the business, run by the infamous Pump brothers, to identify Bruce Pearl as viable candidate in 2005 when Pearl was the hottest commodity in coaching. Hamilton is so inept that he hired Monte Kiffin's kid to run his football program, and when that fell apart, he hired Vince Dooley's kid. Next year he'll hire Urban Meyer's kid. And Urban Meyer's kid is 12.
No way is Mike Hamilton shrewd enough to keep Pearl around just to distract the NCAA from the biggest money-maker on campus, the Tennessee football program.
Besides, the NCAA isn't likely to be distracted -- the NCAA is likely to get ticked off. Remember, it hammered Southern California's football and basketball programs harder than anyone expected after USC flaunted its apathy for integrity by replacing Pete Carroll with the cheater from Tennessee, Lane Kiffin.
I say all that to say this:
The NCAA is going to hammer Tennessee like a one-inch nail -- one shot, boom! -- and when it happens, Tennessee will have employees above Bruce Pearl to blame.
Obviously, Tennessee will have Pearl to blame, too. He started this mess by breaking an innocuous rule -- allowing a high school junior into his house, when only seniors are allowed the privilege -- and turning it into a major violation. Pearl asked the kid's family to hide that violation from the NCAA, then Pearl lied to the NCAA himself. Shown a picture of the recruit on his visit, Pearl told the NCAA he couldn't say where it had been taken because he didn't recognize the place. And the place was his own house.
Before Pearl went Pinocchio, the last two people who famously lied to the NCAA -- Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant, UConn men's basketball staffer Beau Archibald -- went down in flames. Bryant's college career was over, and Archibald's might well be; he was given a two-year "show cause" order for misleading the NCAA during the Nate Miles investigation, meaning Archibald can't coach for two years and making him untouchable when the two years are up.
Please, don't try to compare Bruce Pearl to UConn's Jim Calhoun. Pearl did all his own lying to the NCAA. Read More >>
The NCAA knows the precedent it set with Bryant and reinforced with Archibald, and knows the world is watching to see what happens to Pearl for doing the same thing. Given all that, the NCAA won't be mollified by the SEC's eight-game suspension of Pearl earlier this season.
Which brings me back to Tennessee:
How have you not fired Bruce Pearl yet? Most times the NCAA punishes a coach guilty of blatant unethical conduct, it is punishing an ex-coach -- because the unethical SOB has already been fired. By not firing Pearl, Tennessee is setting itself up to be treated like USC was treated after bringing in renegade Lane Kiffin. Tennessee was in trouble with the NCAA anyway, yes. But by keeping Pearl, it will be so much worse.
I've written it before, and will write it again: I don't often "fire" people. There are sportswriters known for firing coaches or general managers. Some hacks have fired more people than Donald Trump. That's not me. I can count on one hand the number of people I've tried to fire over the past seven years.
One was North Carolina's Butch Davis, when his football program was hit last year by two different NCAA investigations. UNC had players accepting benefits from an agent, and UNC had players cheating en masse in class. Davis could survive either investigation, but both? At the same time? He shouldn't survive that, and I wrote it. Yet he survived. He's still the coach. I never claimed to be the tail wagging the dog. I'm more of a tick on that tail. I get it.
UNC hid behind the plausible notion that Davis didn't know his players were cheating in class or taking benefits from an agent. But UNC also hid behind the laughable notion that Davis shouldn't have known his associate head coach and recruiting coordinator, John Blake, was on the payroll of the agent in question.
Tennessee has no such shrubbery to hide behind. The question isn't whether Bruce Pearl knew of the cheating. Bruce Pearl did the cheating. Then urged the recruit's family to cover it up. Then lied to the NCAA about it.
Four days after the NCAA announced that Pearl and his staff were guilty of 10 major violations, someone named Bruce Pearl remains coach of the Tennessee basketball team.
What the hell, Tennessee?
What the hell?