The irony is just too massive to miss: On the day after he was punished for misleading NCAA investigators with a three-year show-cause penalty, Bruce Pearl addressed the media at his house. In his backyard. While serving barbecue.
Gallows humor? Unintentional coincidence? A simple overwhelming preference for barbecue? (This would be totally understandable, because barbecue is awesome.) Whatever the reasons, Pearl addressed the media at a makeshift news conference next to his pool, saying that while he understood the NCAA's penalties, he thought he deserved more credit for going back to the NCAA and correcting his false statements after the fact. From the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
“I was in control of that situation, and I didn’t handle things right at my house,’’ Pearl said. “Had I been more forthcoming in my interview (June 14, 2010) with the NCAA, we wouldn’t be here.’’ [...] “I believe I should have gotten more credit for coming forward and telling the truth,’’ Pearl said. “But the damage that was done was too great.’’
I suppose one could make this argument; Pearl did, after all, initiate the second meeting with the NCAA. The problem is the timing.
Pearl's first meeting with the NCAA took place on June 14, 2010. His second interview was granted on Aug. 4, 2010. It was a matter of weeks before Pearl decided to correct the record. Had Pearl redialed the NCAA enforcement staff's office immediately after his first call, apologized for lying and said his panic had rushed him into a regrettable mistake, that may have been a different story. But a few weeks is a long time to think about things. It's time enough to call John Craft, Aaron Craft's father, and get a feel for what Craft will or will not say in his interview with the NCAA. It's enough time to have a Raskolnikov-level breakdown. It's enough time to figure out the NCAA knows you're lying anyway -- and enough time to come clean while you can still save some face.
In other words, despite his protests to the contrary, it's difficult to believe Pearl deserves extra credit for returning to the NCAA after the fact. Confessing when you've already been caught isn't exactly cooperation.
That all said, Pearl did make one really valid point in his barbecue presser: The alleged bump charge -- wherein Pearl supposedly bumped into a recruit illegally at an AAU competition after he was already under investigation for the barbecue mess -- essentially cost him and his staff their jobs. Until then, Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek and athletic director Mike Hamilton were full-throated in their support of Pearl and their desire to keep him coaching at Tennessee. After that, the school -- fearful of further angering the NCAA gods -- dropped him like a Terrell Owens crossing pattern. From the News-Sentinel again:
“The timing of that charge led directly to the termination of my coaching staff,’’ Pearl said. “We were out there doing our jobs representing the university with an expectation to be judged as every other coach that was in that gym.
“Our chancellor and our athletic director went on record as saying that supposed bump violation was the beginning of the end for me,’’ he said. “I waited a lifetime for a job like Tennessee ... It was my hope our staff could have survived.’’
Now, Tennessee would have had to fire Pearl eventually anyway, because the NCAA would have levied its three-year show-cause, and no matter how much you want to keep your coach, you can't keep a program viable if your coaching staff can't recruit. But Pearl's right. The allegation that officially ended his Tennessee career didn't even register, at least not with the NCAA. Tough break, that.
But in the end, Pearl's barbecue is what really got him in trouble. A question, then, to any of the local media that made it out on Thursday: Was the pulled pork worth it?