Let there be no mistake -- I detest Tennessee Volunteers head basketball coach Bruce Pearl for some wrong-headed comments he made about the Commonwealth of Kentucky a few years back. They were insensitive and in their own way, as bigoted as any you will hear in our politically correct world.
Karma struck and he wound up at Tennessee, a place that is culturally indistinguishable from their neighbor to the north that Pearl and his now ex-wife so casually derided. What's even more ironic is that the "red neck" culture of the South has found a way to forgive him of one of coaching's most unforgivable sins -- lying to the NCAA.
The official charge in the NCAA manual is "unethical conduct." Understandably, the NCAA takes a dim view of people to lie and/or deliberately mislead them. The organization is woefully understaffed for the work they do, and they depend upon the veracity of their member institutions and their personnel to a great degree when conducting investigations. Bruce Pearl did a great wrong, a wrong that got Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State suspended for the final ten games of his junior season.
Bryant is a player, and a young man, and he lied to the NCAA. For that lie, the NCAA came down hard. Bruce Pearl lied and dissembled to the NCAA, and for that he gets a one-year off-campus recruiting ban and loses a significant but not really punitive amount of salary. Yes, 1.5 million over five years is a big number, but this was a firing offense. If any one of us lied to an investigator and brought discredit on my employer, it is more likely we would be "freed up for other opportunities" than not.Pearl has now done two really unambiguously nasty things in his coaching career. He falsely accused former Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins of recruiting violations, even though his tip to the NCAA did result in findings against Illinois. Many praised Pearl for that, but the NCAA said his accusation against Collins wasn't true:
The kicker for Collins was this: The NCAA report essentially cleared him of Pearl's allegations, though the program was hit hard for other major violations.
"I have been able to step aside from that, but it never goes away," Collins said. "Away from Chicago, people say I beat the case. It doesn't mean that you're innocent. It means you got away with something. For years that's been a harness that I had.
I can just hear the Illini fans cheering this absolutely priceless karmic outcome now that Pearl felt compelled to self-inflict major damage on his own career, just as he inflicted major damage on the career of Collins. It's hard to blame Collins for engaging in a little schadenfreude at the expense of his former tormentor.
This, to me, encapsulates the problem for Bruce Pearl:
"I've learned some valuable lessons," Pearl said Friday. "After I provided false and misleading information, I subsequently went back and corrected the record. I learned that it's not OK to tell the truth most of the time, but that you have to tell the truth all the time."
With all due respect to coach Pearl, that is a lesson you should be teaching, not learning. It is regrettable but understandable when 19- and 20-year-olds lie. It is an offense of an entirely different level when an adult in a position of instructing young men about integrity demonstrate that they have none.
John Calipari has been accused by all and sundry of knowing about Marcus Camby and Derrick Rose's indiscretions and looking the other way for years, despite the findings to the contrary. But the wrong that Pearl has done dwarfs those allegations, even if they were not demonstrably false. Unethical conduct is absolutely the worst individual charge under the NCAA bylaws -- the very worst. It is a major felony, be you coach or be you player.
Tennessee has suffered a lot of abuse at the hands of its coaches lately, and I'm absolutely not going to pile on. In fact, I totally support the Volunteer fans and deeply regret the misery they are living through right now. If they want to keep Pearl around, I am fine with their decision. Everyone deserves a chance at redemption, and despite my personal animus toward Pearl, he deserves it no less than the rest of us. And it appears he'll get a chance to do it, barring some new revelation after the charges have been fully investigated.
I hope he makes the best of it.