As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m a huge sports fan. What’s more, I’m a tremendous homer in that my favorite teams to follow are the ones that play right here in my hometown — the Tennessee Vols. And of late, my favorite squad has been the men’s basketball team. And today, Tennessee fired head coach Bruce Pearl, and my daughter doesn’t understand why.
After all, he’s led Tennessee to a school record six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. In those appearances, the Vols have won 8 games, matching the total number of NCAA tournament victories the school had amassed in its entire history before his arrival. Coach Pearl holds the record for most wins in a single season, 31, as well as the second highest total, 28, which happened just last season when he led the Vols to within one point of reaching the Final Four.
My daughter’s reaction when I told her over the weekend that I suspected he’d be fired? “Why would they fire him? He’s a winner.”
My daughter’s not alone. Her reaction was Tennessee’s initial one when its administrators gave the coach a nod of approval despite serious NCAA violations committed my Pearl. Long story short, Coach Pearl lied to the NCAA when asked about a recruiting infraction he had committed. But not only did he lie, he also engaged in a (failed) cover up attempt by instructing his staff to lie about the matter. Coach Pearl even went so far as to ask the recruit and the recruits parents to lie as well.
Shortly after lying to the NCAA, Coach Pearl held a press conference alongside University of Tennessee Athletic Director, Mike Hamilton, during which the coach tearfully apologized for his transgressions, announcing that he had since made amends by informing the NCAA of his lie. Supporters pointed to the fact that he ultimately did the right thing. Detractors believed that Pearl knew he’d get caught and was just trying to save face.
Despite the fact that lying to the NCAA is considered a fireable offense by the vast majority (if not all) of the NCAA member institutions, Tennessee chose to stand behind the man who had resurrected the men’s basketball program, as evidenced by remarks made by Chancellor Jimmy Cheek: “Bruce is our coach, and he’s going to be our coach for many years. We’re going to get through this adversity.”
But just last Wednesday, UT had seemingly done an about face when Hamilton indicated in a radio interview with WNML that Pearl’s future was very much up in the air and that there would be an evaluation at the end of the season.
No wonder my daughter was confused. It seemed like the entire Tennessee administration was, too. I mean, at first, they were willing to look the other way and support their coach despite the fact he committed the ultimate sin of lying to the NCAA. Then suddenly, it seemed as if the university was on the verge of getting rid of him.
So what changed?
Nothing. It’s still all about wins from word go.
Coach Pearl has done an incredible job both on and off court in his capacity of head coach here at Tennessee. He’s led the Vols to heights they’d not experienced in years, if ever. And UT’s administration didn’t want to lose the man who was responsible for all that good. Despite the bad.
Yet, it became more and more evident that Tennessee was going to suffer some very stiff penalties from the NCAA when the committee rules on the matter this June. Especially given the fact that the NCAA uncovered the following: Coach Pearl committed yet another NCAA recruiting violation just four days after his initial press conference.
So it appeared as if the school had two choices — keep their coach and get hammered by the NCAA or get rid of their coach and receive a less severe punishment. Or so goes the speculation, at least. Speculation which suggest that the school has always acted with winning in mind. At first they thought their best chance was by hanging on to Pearl. But now, they feel their chances are better if they let the man go.
So, how do you explain all of that to a 9-year-old?
I simply told her that Coach Pearl had not only lied about something very serious, but that he had also tried to cover up that lie by asking others to do the same. My daughter knows what a no-no that is, and you could tell by the look in her eyes.
“Oh,” she answered, suddenly understanding without the need for any more follow up questions.
Still, you could tell that she didn’t fully grasp the situation. But how could you expect her to? Especially when school administrators clearly never grasped it, either?
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