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While a certainty, Hamilton's Tennessee departure is late

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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It should have been a red flag when Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton brought on the maligned Pump Brothers to help assist his search for a new men's basketball coach a little more than six years ago.

Sure, he wound up with a guy in Bruce Pearl who brought unbridled enthusiasm and plenty of victories, but it came with a steep price.

The near-gutting of an entire program in Knoxville which finally culminated with Hamilton's job.

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Hamilton had no choice but to resign Tuesday. In fact, the only shocking aspect was that it dragged out until June 7 -- only a few days before he and the school are scheduled to sit in front of the NCAA's Committee of Infractions.

In essence, this should have been done a while ago.

Hamilton sat up at the podium with a teary-eyed Bruce Pearl back in September and pledged his support, knowing full-well that if Pearl were fired, his tenure as the AD also would come to a crashing halt.

The truth was he never should have held that news conference in the first place since the school hadn't even received a letter of allegations from the NCAA (that didn't arrive until late February).

Instead, Hamilton said he and the school would stick by Pearl despite the admission he lied to the NCAA -- but whacked the coach in the wallet with a $1.5 million salary cut and also instituted recruiting restrictions on both Pearl and his coaching staff.

But instead of taking Pearl off the road immediately, he decided to give him a couple more weeks and then impose the recruiting restrictions.

By then it was too late. Pearl was caught making illegal contact with a recruit at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia only days after the news conference.

It became a circus with Hamilton -- just prior to the Vols' NCAA tournament game against Michigan -- telling a radio show that Pearl's job would be re-evaluated after the season.

The season ended with a 30-point beatdown at the hands of the Wolverines only days later -- and Pearl was canned on March 21.

Pearl did the crime, but the athletic director -- in this case, Hamilton -- also needs to do the time.

He was the one who brought since-departed football coach Lane Kiffin and Pearl on board.

Maybe the departure of former USC athletic director Mike Garrett and now that of Hamilton will finally force ADs to contemplate rolling the dice on coaches who could wind up destroying their own career paths.

Maybe integrity actually will matter when making hiring decisions, rather than winning being the only factor.

It wasn't only men's basketball for Hamilton, either, and that was the larger issue. It was the flagship program down in Knoxville, the football team, which became the laughingstock. Kiffin bolted after only one season and left no shortage of violations in his wake.

Athletic directors need to be held accountable for their hires -- and that doesn't mean giving Hamilton $1.3 million to walk away, either.

Sure, he may be a nice guy -- but with the way he left this program, all he should have received from Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek was a kick in the ass on his way out.

Now the Vols' program has finally been cleansed -- and maybe the NCAA will show mercy now that all the leading actors of this soap opera are gone.

Kiffin and Pearl have been replaced by a pair of "mid-major" coaches and Hamilton's spot will be filled by an athletic director to be named later.

Derek Dooley hadn't proven much in his tenure at Louisiana Tech, but comes from strong bloodlines -- and was solid in his first season after replacing Kiffin.

Then there was another outside-the-box hire with the addition of Missouri State basketball coach Cuonzo Martin -- a Midwest guy that hadn't gone to the NCAA tournament in his three seasons in the Missouri Valley, but one who arrives with a clean image.

While Hamilton stuck around longer than most anticipated, it was only a matter of time.

"I think today," he said. "was inevitable."

But it should have come sooner.

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