Today's guest post is by Emily Simmons, (pictured) Graduate Assistant for Student Media, Student Life Organization, College of Charleston.
Right about now former University of Tennessee Men’s Head Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl is probably regretting working without a contract for the 2010-2011 NCAA basketball season. Monday rumors were confirmed that Donald Trump’s famous words fell upon Pearl’s ears: “You’re Fired!”
In October, RepMan reported on Pearl’s September press conference, in which he announced committing NCAA recruitment violations, and apologized to the public. During the press conference UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton stated the University had imposed self-sanctions against Pearl and his staff, resulting in limited recruitment and coaching privileges, along with deduction in pay. Pearl sat on the sidelines of eight SEC games, likely spending much of that time saying his prayers that he was going to hold onto his job a little bit longer.
But during the infamous press conference, Hamilton and UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek confirmed that in light of Pearl’s confession, the University would stand behind its fearless leader. “We sat down at the very beginning and thought ‘what is our ultimate goal?’ We want Bruce Pearl to be our basketball coach; short of data showing we have to do differently, we’re going to go into this with him being our basketball coach,” Hamilton said during an interview with Knoxville station WBIR in October. Pearl’s firing came following a disgraceful 30-point loss to University of Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament; so was Hamilton saying the University would stand behind him if he was a cheater, but not if he was a cheater and a loser?
Pearl’s termination came as no surprise to the sports world, considering one week prior to the announcement Hamilton went on a local radio station claiming Pearl’s job was on the line. Two days following Hamilton’s slip of the tongue, UT found itself embarrassed and out of the tournament following Michigan’s landslide win against the Volunteers. So what went wrong that caused this sudden shift in administrative support for Pearl? Was it the Michigan loss, rumored reports of additional NCAA violations, or had the University been planning this all along?
One month following the September press conference, Pearl’s contract was terminated, and administration announced the University was in the process of drafting a new contract for Pearl. Pearl’s former contract, according to ESPN Reporter Andy Katz, was said to be airtight. One clause protected Pearl from termination during an NCAA investigation, and only allowed action for removal to be taken following NCAA sanctions. Reports claim that Pearl continued contract negotiations over the following months, and never quite made it to signing the dotted line, a result of disagreements in the contract’s terms. But with Hamilton’s and Cheek’s public acknowledgment that his job was safe, there didn’t seem to be any threat to Pearl’s job, right? Well, as the old saying goes, “Put it in writing.”
It’s safe to say that the crux of this story has nothing to do with the NCAA violations themselves, but simply the PR mess UT has gotten itself into over the past two years. Administration announced prior to the “resignation” of former UT Head Football Coach Phillip Fulmer that his job, too, was on the line. Hamilton then hired Lane Kiffin, the first coach not from the SEC to lead the Volunteers into a losing season, who left less than one year into his contract. The Athletic Director then publicly acknowledged support of Pearl following accusations of NCAA violations, only to throw him under the bus two days prior to UT’s game in the NCAA Tournament, and then fire him with little to no explanation. In light of Hamilton’s inconsistent leadership, it’s likely that UT won’t be losing any recruits resulting from NCAA sanctions soon to be placed on the athletic program, but rather due to the lack of administrative support and transparency the University is portraying.
Saturday the University named Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin as UT Men’s Head Basketball Coach. While Martin begins to rebuild the basketball program’s image, it will be interesting to see how the University moves forward to repair its own image. One thing’s for certain: if they hire Pat Summitt to coach all sports and run the Athletic Department they’ll be making their first smart move in years.