There was a moment in 2010 when I actually felt sorry for the Tennessee athletic department because it’s not every day a university gets blindsided and has its football coach bolt after one season, even if that coach (Lane Kiffin) is pretty much a clown.
Well, any sympathy is gone now. Seldom has an athletic department so completely botched a situation as Tennessee did with basketball coach Bruce Pearl. He should’ve been fired in September when he admitting to lying to the NCAA and committing several violations stemming from hosting a barbecue for recruits at his home. Pearl even asked the father of one of the recruits to help him cover up the incident.
It gets better. Four days AFTER Pearl wept and asked for forgiveness, Jimmy Swaggart style, in a news conference, Pearl and assistant coach committed another violation, making illegal contact with another potential recruit.
Now comes this: Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, after inexplicably allowing Pearl to keep his job this season despite the NCAA’s unethical conduct charges, is suddenly balking on the coach’s future. When asked if Pearl would be the team’s coach next season on a Knoxville radio station Wednesday, Hamilton responded: “We don’t know the answer today.”
The problem is not that Pearl is in trouble, or that many now expect him to fired after Tennessee’s last game. The problem is that, because of Hamilton, this is being debated now. The Volunteers play in the NCAA tournament Friday. This isn’t something the Tennessee players should have to deal with now. It all could have been avoided if a change was made six months ago.
Back in September, Tennessee chose to ignore the fact that Pearl is a dog with fleas because, well, he’s a really good basketball coach. Now that they’re in the tournament, Hamilton is creating a firestorm at the worst conceivable time.
“I think that we’ve done a lot of soul-searching about the direction of our program and we’ll continue to do that,’’ Hamilton said.
Soul-searching. Now that’s funny.
By Jeff Schultz