Wipe the Crumbs Off Your Face or Admit You Ate the Cookie

Today's guest post is by Emily Simmons, a graduate student in communications at the College of Charleston.

He’s famously known as the SEC basketball coach who painted his chest orange in support of the Lady Vols and the first head coach to lead the Volunteers to a #1 national ranking.  Bruce Pearl Ncaa06_mp_t607 led his team into the Elite 8 during the 2010 Men’s NCAA Tournament, the only time in the university’s history.  Now he is the man barely holding on to his job and what’s left of his pride. 

On Sept. 10, Pearl spoke the words that an 'Orange Nation' hoped were not true.  He not only violated recruitment violations, but he lied to NCAA officials during interviews in June.  Although Pearl doesn’t directly admit lying to authorities, he describes his violations as “misleading information.” 

According to the NCAA, Pearl exceeded regulations set for the amount of phone calls coaching staff was allowed to make to recruits.  He is also accused of allowing recruits and their families to extend visits over the 48 hours allotted to a recruit, with each visit being paid for by University of Tennessee’s Athletic Department.  Following his June meeting with NCAA investigators, Pearl reportedly met with UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton to fess up.  Why then was it not until September that he came clean to the public?

The old saying that a picture speaks a thousand words may be the reason why he kept his mouth shut for a few months.  The NCAA obtained a photo of three prospective recruits in Pearl’s home, catching him with his hand in the cookie jar.  NCAA regulations state that high school juniors are not allowed contact with coaching staff off campus.  Following the photo leak, the coach held a press conference during which he shed a few dry tears and choked over his words while apologizing to his family, the NCAA, his staff, Tennessee fans and of course, his players and recruits.  He admitted to violating NCAA regulations and misleading authorities during their investigation.  But, did he really admit that he was the one who stole the cookie?

He confesses that while he blatantly disregarded national rules, he was only sorry for lying about them afterwards.  Pearl vows to cooperate fully during the continuation of the investigation, but he and his staff have failed to answer any further questions from the media.  While he claims he “learned it’s not ok to tell the truth most of the time, it’s ok to tell the truth all the time,” his lack of transparency during this investigation leaves fans and professionals following the case wondering whether one apology is enough.  Does Pearl need more open communication to stop his fall from grace?

With preparations for the 2011 recruiting season well underway, the UT coach and his staff will have little time to convince these recruits that the Orange Nation is the place for them due to UT’s self-imposed sanctions as corrective action following their violations.  Tennessee has reduced the number of days allotted to recruit from 130 to 104 days.  Official recruit visits will be limited to eight days rather than 12, and it can be certain that Pearl will only allow recruits to stay for their given 48 hours.  The head coach was suspended from recruiting calls for nine days, and his Associate Head Coach Tony Jones will not be charging long-distance bills for the next three months.  In addition, he and his staff have received pay cuts and retention checks have been delayed for three years.

While the self-imposed sanctions are clearly an effort to lighten NCAA-imposed sanctions, it’s also a tactic that many are replicating in their own institution.  For example, on Oct. 8, University of Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun announced violations of NCAA recruiting laws.  Their response?  Self-sanctions, of course.  UConn has placed the men’s basketball team on a two-year probation and taken away one scholarship for each of the probated seasons.  Sept. 27, AnnMarie Gilbert, Eastern Michigan women’s basketball coach, announced her one-month suspension following NCAA practice hours violations relating to the 2009-2010 Women’s Invitational Tournament.  While neither of these coaches has officially been punished by the NCAA, they have followed in Pearl’s footsteps in hopes that a few self-sanctions and slaps on the wrist will save their reputation and their programs.

The upcoming months will be the only way to evaluate these attempts to save not only university reputations, but the upcoming recruiting season as well.  Pearl self-proclaims that he is to “be an example for the NCAA,” but depending on the NCAA’s response, his role as an example could cost him his career and the future success of the UT Athletic Department.  Claiming three head football coaches in three seasons and one nationally scrutinized head basketball coach, Tennessee can only hope that these self-sanctions allow the university to become the phoenix and rise from the ashes.

13 thoughts on “Wipe the Crumbs Off Your Face or Admit You Ate the Cookie

  1. Great link, Gaetano. Maybe in light of the violations influx we are seeing across the country, the NCAA will take these points into account. College sports have always been about tradition, and the professional and celebrity-like atmosphere developing is leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.

  2. They say you cannot succeed until you fail. If UT can learn from its mistakes, and use them to their advantage, Pearl and the entire UT Athletic Department could be “an example for the NCAA.” Megan, they could have a killer coach and a killer program that establishes guidelines in order to prevent future violations.

  3. While I feel that Bruce Pearl has done an outstanding job turning the Vols basketball program around,I also wonder at what cost to the integrity of the program and the name of the University. While some say that every school violates regulations, it is not right now or ever! My hope is that he has come clean and he will conduct himself, his team and his staff in a more appropriate manner.

  4. Love the title, Em. It’s easy to defend a University that you spent 4, if not more years loving. I agree, he wasn’t completely truthful, but, at the end of the day, he’s a killer coach and the UT fans would be be crushed if they decided to boot Bruuuuuuuuuce! People screw up, and Pearl is no exception. Everybody deserves a second chance. As Molly said, every school violates regulations….GO VOLS!!!!

  5. Although Bruce didn’t handle this in the best way, Tennessee does not need to seek a new coach. He should have admitted his mistakes earlier, but I understand why he would try to keep this out of the media as long as possible. I can’t think of many coaches that would have fessed up to their NCAA violations. Every school violates regulations at one point or another; however, at the end of the day, you have to look at the caliber of the coach. Tennessee went from a non-factor in college basketball to being a ranked team that other teams did not want to face. Last year he led the team to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. He should be punished but definitely not fired. Tennessee has been in the negative spotlight a little too often this past year. I believe that they have realized their short comings and are taking steps to lead them back to the top. Love you, Bruce and the BallerVols!

  6. Let’s shut down the NCAA and go back to the days when money and cars for players was out in the open. College Football and Basketball is a much bigger business now then it was then. Let’s acknowledge that they are the Free Minor Leagues for the NFL and NBA. Pay the players and let’s end this nonsense with the NCAA cops.

  7. So I’m not a huge follower of UT sports, but is there talk on message boards of potential replacements for him? I always feel like turning a program around starts with a new coach. You need to re-energize the fan support and that’s the best way to do it. He seems like he’s become more of a mascot rather than a coach. Again, I’m on the outside looking in on this situation, but change is good and sometimes necessary.

  8. Agreed. Although I bleed orange, Pearl needs to say that both his violations and the “misleading information” he provided were equally devious. All in all, I still will be a lifelong Bruce fan. Can we hope that the NCAA will check up on the University of Florida, too?

  9. It’ll be interesting to see how this incident will affect other NCAA athletic teams, particularly basketball. I could definitely see it resulting in more monitoring from NCAA officials. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out for the 2011 recruitment season.

  10. Great article! Agree with Geoff…but can’t help but say, I love me some Bruce just as much as I did before!

  11. I think open communication could help restore his image, or at least pad the fall. However, it’s his unwillingness to admit that what he did was wrong that will ultimately cost him. He needs to confess – fully.

  12. Bruce Pearl was wrong here but hopefully he gets to stay on board because he’s really turned around UT men’s basketball program.