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Bruce Pearl Axed at Tennessee

Tennessee Basketball will go on without Pearl

The Bruce Pearl era at Tennessee has come to end. The end had been in speculation since rumors began that Pearl would be let go, even before the Volunteers had played their NCAA tournament game. A game in which they lost 75-45 to Michigan.

In a statement released Monday night, Athletic Director Mike Hamilton officially announced that Pearl and his staff would be, “relieved of their duties with the University of Tennessee basketball program.”

Before this season it seemed that Pearl and Tennessee were a great match. The Volunteers basketball program had not seen this much sustained success in the men’s basketball program history. Pearl was 145-61 (65-33 SEC) in his six seasons as head coach.

He won the SEC East title in 2006. In 2008, he lead Tennessee to its first SEC regular season championship in 41 years. That season Pearl also guided the program to its first #1 ranking in its history. He had also led Tennessee to five straight NCAA tournament appearances; including the school's first ever trip to the Elite 8 in 2010.

Everything appeared to be great in Knoxville. Then in the beginning of 2010, problems started coming up.

That was when four players were arrested during a traffic stop, the day after Tennessee had defeated then number one Memphis on the road. Police found drugs, alcohol, and a gun in the car with the players. The players were suspended and two would be dismissed from the team.

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl in Tennessee Volunteers 59-49 victory over the LSU Tigers in the First Round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN.

Then word came out that the NCAA was looking into possible recruiting violations with Pearl. Pearl gave the NCAA misleading information during an interview. It started with a picture that showed Pearl with recruits at his home during a barbeque. Pearl said he did not know where that was. He later admitted that he lied.

That was enough to cause Tennessee to reduce Pearl’s salary by $1.5 and they allowed him to coach this past season with no contract. The SEC suspended him 8 games during SEC conference games though. Even though Pearl had put the basketball program in jeopardy, Tennessee was willing to stick with him.

It looked like it was a good idea. Tennessee started out 7-0 and won the Preseason NIT Tournament. The success would be short lived. Tennessee would finish the season going 12-15, including 8-8 in the SEC. They actually had a better record without Pearl 5-3, than with him, 3-5. The Vols would extend their NCAA streak to 6 straight years with a 9 seed, but would lose in the round of 64 to Michigan, 75-45. It is the largest margin of victory in a 8-9 match up.

The week leading up to the NCAA would be rough; as rumors began to fly that Pearl would be fired. The media questioned the players and Pearl about his status.

Then Monday Pearl was officially let go. In the statement from AD Hamilton states, “During this time, the dynamics of our case with the NCAA have evolved further, including additional violations committed on September 14 and in March 2011. The cumulative effect of the evolution of the investigation combined with a number of more recent non-NCAA-related incidents have led to a belief that this staff cannot be viable at Tennessee in the future.”

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl
10 March 2011: Tennessee Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl in the Tennessee Volunteers 74-68 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks in the SEC Tournament at The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.

The violations mentioned are being reported to be illegal contact with a recruit on September, 14, 2010. This was just days after Pearl’s press conference announcing he had lied to the NCAA. The March 2011 violation is being reported as extra tickets given to a player/players family for a home game. The non-NCAA issue is being reported as a player being held out of the final two games because of drug-related issues. The staff never said this, but an injury was also reported.

Apparently this was enough for Tennessee to finally let go of Pearl, as they should. Now the fallout will begin for the basketball program. There are many questions that will need to be answered.

What players will stick around? Freshman standout Tobias Harris and Junior Scotty Hopson are the biggest question marks. Will they return to Knoxville or jump to the NBA?

What about those freshmen coming in next year? Kevin Ware, a shooting guard out of Georgia has asked out of his Letter of Intent and rumors are Chris Jones, a point guard out of North Carolina will, too. Without the coach they were recruited by and questions surrounding the program, who will want to play for Tennessee?

Bruce Pearl
Tennessee's Bruce Pearl.

That leads to the biggest question, Who will be the next basketball coach? You will hear names like VCU’s Shaka Smart, Butler’s Brad Stevens, and Chris Mooney from Richmond, as they are young hot coaches right now. Tennessee really needs to make the right hire for the program.

Tennessee is a good place to coach basketball. Pearl has proven that you can win in Knoxville. They recently built a new basketball practice facility and upgraded Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee has been in the top five in attendance the past few seasons, proving that Tennessee fans do support basketball. Plus Tennessee is a football school first, so there is not as much pressure as there is at a basketball school like Kentucky.

Things look bad in Knoxville right now as they still have to receive their punishment from the NCAA. That may lead to a few tough years ahead for the basketball program. The program can be rebuilt and if the right coach is brought in, it can be better than it was under Pearl.

Thanks to Dennis Berry for writing Bruce Pearl Axed at Tennessee article for SEC Sports Fan.

Check out our Bruce Pearl Biography and Bruce Pearl Is Too Sexy for His Shirt page.

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Mike Hamilton Next To Go? Not rated yet
This is the big question. All of this was under the management and direction of Mike Hamilton, so naturally everyone is asking whether he will be next …

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