Mar 21, 2011, 3:48 PM EDT
In a move that surprises no one, Bruce Pearl’s out at Tennessee.
reportedly fired their coach after a tumultuous season in which he was busted for violating NCAA recruiting rules, lied about it, apologized, broke more rules, was suspended for eight SEC games, banned from off-campus recruiting, got his salary docked by $1.5 million and even had his contract terminated by the school.
Athletic director Mike Hamilton said the “jury was out” on Pearl’s job status last week. And when the Vols suffered a 30-point drubbing by Michigan during their NCAA tournament opener on Friday, the decision got even easier.
Not that it’s a popular move.
In six seasons, Pearl turned a moribund hoops program into a national contender, leading the Vols to their first-ever No. 1 ranking in the AP polls and four trips to the Sweet 16. Last season, they missed out on the Final Four by six points. Overall, he was 145-61.
Many fans didn’t want to see him go. About 150 people turned out Sunday for a hasty pep rally to support the coach. He’s a gregarious, outgoing coach who wins. No wonder they love him.
“Why would you not take the chancellor of the University of Tennessee at his word?’’ Barry Smith, a 49-year-old Knoxville resident, told the Knoxville News. “I think the NCAA has reared their head and are extorting UT, saying, ‘If you keep (Pearl), you’re going to regret it.’
“What Bruce did was wrong, everybody gets that, and he’s paid a price for that . . . but he gained no competitive advantage from the violation he committed.”
Here’s what a show of support looks like.
Hamilton should hope his new hire turns out to be a winner. Even the new coach doesn’t break NCAA rules, he’ll have a long way to go to fill Pearl’s shoes.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.
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