|Bruce Pearl's violations cost him his job, and forced his ex-assistants' families to scramble. (US Presswire)|
NICEVILLE, Fla. -- Bruce Pearl made $2 million a year at Tennessee, received a $1 million buyout upon being dismissed for NCAA rules violations, then landed a plush job with a Knoxville-based wholesaler that allowed him to stay in his 10,000-square-foot mansion valued at $2.6 million.
So in case you were wondering, the former Vols coach is doing just fine. Or at least better than the staff that went down with him.
"I heard Bruce said they're selling their house so they can downsize to a lake home," said Jana Shay, wife of former Tennessee assistant Jason Shay. "But that's a little different than downsizing to an 800-square-foot apartment in another state."
College coaches are fired every year.
Mostly for losing.
So we write the stories, wait to see if they'll land somewhere, check in every once in a while and move on with our lives.
But what about the collateral damage? What about the men who find themselves unemployed not because they didn't recruit at a high level or game-plan well enough, but because, in the case of Pearl's staff at Tennessee, they had a boss who hosted recruits at his home in violation of NCAA rules, got photographed doing it, then lied about it to NCAA investigators?
What happens to them?
"My family is split up for the first time ever," said Steve Forbes, a former Pearl assistant who is now the head coach at Northwest Florida State. "My daughter is a senior at Tennessee. She lived at home with us. But now we don't have her because we don't live there anymore."
The whys and whats and whens of the demise of Pearl and his staff can be spun 100 different ways, and they have been. The assistants feel like they are mostly just guilty of protecting their head coach, and their head coach believes he lied to the NCAA only to protect his assistants, who were already on record claiming they couldn't recall where the now infamous picture of Pearl and Aaron Craft was snapped.
Either way, the truth is this: Had Pearl not been photographed doing what he did, Forbes wouldn't be the head coach at a junior college here in the panhandle. And Shay wouldn't be his assistant. And Shay's two young children wouldn't be sharing bunk beds in a two-bedroom apartment. And they wouldn't have had to leave the family dog with relatives because dogs aren't allowed in the complex.
And nobody's house back in Knoxville would be, in all likelihood, headed for foreclosure.
"I've tried to sell it, but I can't even rent it," Forbes said. "My monthly check here doesn't even cover my monthly mortgage payment on that house."
Forbes used to make $200,000 a year at Tennessee.
Now he makes $60,000.
Shay made around $150,000 a year at Tennessee.
Now he makes $20,000.
So not only have their careers been damaged, their lives have been turned upside down -- all because they A) didn't stop Pearl from having an improper cookout at his home, B) didn't after the fact inform the Tennessee compliance department of what would've almost certainly been a secondary violation, and C) weren't "forthcoming" with information about the cookout when the NCAA initially asked about the picture of Pearl and Craft.
That's what got the UT assistants one-year show-cause penalties.
The NCAA said they weren't "forthcoming."
But here's the question: How could they have been?
When an NCAA investigator pulled the picture from a file and laid it in front of Forbes, he couldn't sacrifice himself for the greater good because it wasn't him, his recruit or his home in the picture. It was Pearl, Pearl's recruit and Pearl's home. So Forbes had two options -- one of which was to identify the people in the picture and mention the cookout at Pearl's home. But everybody knows what happens to men who roll on their bosses like that.
"You do that in this business and you're done," Forbes said. "Blackballed. You're not loyal."
"You're selling cars," Shay added.
Aware of this, Forbes basically said he couldn't identify where the picture was taken and didn't mention the cookout. He didn't lie, exactly. But he wasn't "forthcoming" because, let's be honest, being "forthcoming" would've probably cost him his job. So he answered only the questions he was asked, volunteered little and kept it vague. The end result was a failure to be "forthcoming" charge and a show-cause penalty that effectively prevented he, Shay and fellow assistant Tony Jones from getting Division I jobs this past offseason.
So now Forbes and Shay are coaching at a junior college for a fraction of what they used to make, and Jones is coaching at a high school in the Knoxville area. While Pearl got a $1 million buyout, they got four months of pay that was mostly just accrued vacation time. While Pearl spent the summer vacationing with his wife, Brandy, they spent the summer relocating their families and putting their wives back to work to help cover the bills as best they can.
|Bruce Pearl did the crime. Ex-assistants Tony Jones, Jason Shay and Steve Forbes (right to left) are paying the biggest price. (Getty Images)|
Johnetta Forbes teaches fourth grade.
Jana Shay teaches fifth.
"They took five or six vacations, and here we were trying to sell a house and, for me, find my next job," Jason Shay said, the emotion clear in the cracking of his voice. "Watching them go on five or six vacations didn't go over so well."
But the Facebook updates from Brandy Pearl kept coming.
"I haven't unfriended her or hidden her at all, but I've wanted to," Jana Shay said. "It's been hard."
Forbes and Shay said they haven't spoken to Pearl since Tennessee went before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in June. There was once some talk of Pearl trying to help them get $60,000 worth of attorney's fees paid, but it's never happened, and both said Pearl hasn't otherwise offered to help financially in any way, which is irritating on some level because most believe that in this specific situation it was Pearl's misdeeds that cost everybody their jobs.
Asked Tuesday why he hasn't helped his former assistants financially, Pearl explained to CBSSports.com that his staff was once the third-highest-paid staff in the SEC just like he was once the third-highest-paid head coach in the SEC, point being that he always made sure they were on par with him in terms of salary. He also said that he gave them Christmas bonuses last December worth "five to 10 times more" than they usually got because he knew their salaries had been docked, and that he helped get them the severance package they received from Tennessee.
"But I understand why the assistants [and their families] could [be upset]," Pearl said. "I just hope that through all the years we worked together, they always felt like I took good care of them. But I understand the tremendous hardship [this] has placed on all of us."
Not everyone agrees.
"From his end, it's business. That was a lesson I had to learn, I guess," said Jana Shay, whose husband worked with Pearl for 10 years. "I think Bruce tells people he did the best he could for us, and those who don't know him probably believe that. I just don't know that I believe that totally."
Which is not to suggest everything is awful here on the beach.
Forbes and Shay are gainfully employed, after all, and not everybody in this country can say that. They're still coaching basketball at a respected basketball school, and they're almost exclusively coaching basketball as opposed to spending every minute of every day worrying about recruiting via phone, Facebook or email.
"There are a lot of things in my life that I've gotten back by not being at the high-major level," Forbes said. "Jason and I have actually got to enjoy college football. The last two Saturdays I got to watch 10 hours of college football. It's been great. I haven't had to worry about who's coming in on an unofficial visit. Or where they're staying. Or how they're getting there. I haven't had to worry about how they only get three tickets but five people showed up. You know, things like that. There's so much stress involved."
With that, Forbes stopped for a moment and referenced a board on the wall in his office that is mostly decorated with memorabilia from his days at Tennessee. On the board is a list of the names of the schools that have watched his players at Northwest Florida State work out during this contact period.
"Those guys have all been here," Forbes said, and the list of guys includes West Virginia's Bob Huggins, Memphis' Josh Pastner and Lamar's Pat Knight. "They're all out on the road running around like chickens with their heads cut off, but I don't have to go anywhere. I coach my team and go home. The pace of my life is just so much more sane."
And yet this isn't where he wanted to or planned on spending this year.
It's not where anybody wanted to or planned on spending this year.
But then the NCAA got a hold of photographic evidence of that cookout at Pearl's home, and then Pearl lied about it, and so now Forbes and Shay are coaching at a junior college 500 miles from Knoxville. Houses and friends and family members have been left behind. A little Yorkie named Bob, too. They've gained something but lost a lot professionally, personally and financially, all because of a poor decision that was documented and indefensible.
"It was a bad situation, but we should've never been in that situation," Forbes said. "It was so stupid. It was all just so stupid."