Bruce Pearl Era at Tennessee May Be Coming to An End: UPDATE

Michael Ellis@@MikeFromTNCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2010

Tennessee Head Coach Bruce Pearl in rough stretch on Rocky Top.
Tennessee Head Coach Bruce Pearl in rough stretch on Rocky Top.Nick Laham/Getty Images

The following article was first published on December 23, 2010.  On February 22, 2011, the University of Tennessee received the Letter of Allegations from the NCAA.  The letter alleges that Pearl and members of his coaching staff made impermissible contact with several recruits, mostly in the form of phone calls that violated NCAA rules.  The most serious allegation in the letter charges Pearl with unethical conduct for lying to NCAA investigators in the course of their investigation.  Tennessee has 90 days to respond to the allegations and has a date set for June 10-11 in Indianapolis, IN with the NCAA.

Tuesday night in Knoxville, 19,030 fans filed in to Thompson-Boling Arena on a cold and rainy night, with the students already gone home for Christmas break, to see if Tennessee (7-3, 0-0 SEC) could snap their two-game skid against Volnation's most-hated PAC-10 program, the USC Trojans (7-5, 0-0 PAC-10). 

As I watched Tennessee stumble to their third straight loss, to yet another unranked, non-conference opponent, my nine-year-old son posed this question to his father.

"If you had a time machine and you could go into the future, where do you see Bruce Pearl one year from now?"

Having already formed my opinion a month or so ago, I gave him my answer with little hesitation.

"I think Pearl will no longer be coaching the Vols and will likely be on the sidelines in the NBA."

Don't get me wrong, this is not my wish but my opinion and I own it.  As the saying goes, "that's my story and I'm sticking to it."

I also think Pearl would take a ride in the time machine if he had the chance, but he would go back a little ways before he took a look at what the future holds.

Pearl, who is under investigation by the NCAA for making too many phone calls to recruits and hosting several recruits at his home, has already been sanctioned by University of Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton.  The embattled head coach, who inititally lied to NCAA investigators about the allegations before correcting the record, has been benched from off-campus recruiting for one year, not to mention having salary reductions levied against he and his staff.

Furthermore, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive last month handed down an eight-game SEC suspension to Pearl that begins on January 8th, 2011.

The NCAA investigation is on-going and not expected to be completed until sometime next year.

In the meantime, Pearl toils away without a signed contract, as negotiations with the Tennessee Athletic Department continue.

Even Pearl, the eternal optimist, recently cast a shadow of doubt about his future with the program saying, "I might not survive this.  I don't have a contract.  I might be out of work because of this."

Pearl and the Vols came out of the gate like gang-busters, winning their first seven games, including wins over Big East powerhouses Villanova, to win the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament and Pittsburgh on the road.  Since the Pittsburgh win, Tennessee has lost, in consecutive fashion, to Oakland (89-82) at home, to Charlotte (49-48) on the road and to USC (65-64) and former Tennessee coach Kevin O'Neill Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. 

Losing three straight, alone, certainly won't cost Pearl his job, as he has been one of the most successful coaches in college basketball during his five plus years at the helm of the Vols, with a record of 133-49.  Winning seems to cure most ills, but mounting losses to less-than-stellar teams just adds fuel to the fire for Pearl's detractors. 

Before the loss at the hands of the Trojans, Pearl's Vols had only lost three straight one time before, during the 2006-07 season and have never lost four straight under Pearl.  However, back then it was to  Vanderbilt (82-81) who went on to become a Sweet 16 team, the Ohio State Buckeyes (68-66) who would eventually fall to Florida in the NCAA championship game and to Auburn (83-80).  All three losses were on the road.  Not exactly Oakland, Charlotte and USC. 

During that same stretch the Vols were in the infancy stages of a home winning streak that would last for more than two years and establish a school-record 37 straight home victories. 

During their current three game losing streak, the Vols have watched their RPI fall from #1 to #49.

Nonetheless, Tennessee basketball fans are hoping for a happy ending for Pearl and his Vol hoopsters.

If you're unfamiliar with the Tennessee basketball program, you may wonder what's the big deal about Pearl?  If you're a fan of Kentucky or Duke football, you probably get it.  For the rest of you, let me try to explain.

Not since the days of the beloved Ray Mears has Tennessee had any real significance in men's college basketball until Bruce Pearl arrived in Knoxville in 2005.  The charismatic coach came to Knoxville and embraced the traditions of the program and the university and Volnation embraced him back.  Fan attendance at TBA has increase by 60 percent since his arrival.  The love affair with Coach Pearl continues for most of the Tennessee faithful despite the recent troubles.  Pearl, in five-plus years at Tennessee, has changed the landscape, not just in the SEC, but also on the national stage. 

Love him or not, whether he stays or goes, Pearl's accomplishments cannot be ignored or his impact overstated in what he has meant to the Tennessee basketball program.

If only we had that time machine.

Timeline of Bruce Pearl's Accomplishments at Tennessee

March 28, 2005 - Pearl is hired by AD Mike Hamilton to replace Buzz Peterson as head coach.

December 17, 2005 - Vols cap off 6-0 start under Pearl with stunning upset of the #2 ranked Texas Longhorns (95-78) in Austin.

February 7, 2006 - Vols knock off Kentucky (75-67) in Rupp Arena.

February 22, 2006 - Tennessee completes regular-season sweep of eventual national champion, Florida Gators with 76-72 win in Gainesville.

March 16, 2006 - Pearl turns Vols around from a 14-17 record in 2005-06 to 22-8 and enters the NCAA tournament as a #2 seed and defeats Winthrop 63-61. 

November 10, 2006 - Tennessee begins, what would eventually turn out to be, a 37-game home winning streak with 83-52 win over MTSU.  The streak would last for more than two years, finally coming to an end on January 7, 2009 in an overtime loss to perennial power Gonzaga.

December 23, 2006 - Vols defeat the Texas Longhorns 111-105 in overtime at Knoxville.  Tennessee fans will never forget Chris Lofton's long three-point shot over Kevin Durant that seemingly blew the roof off TBA.

January 22, 2007 - Pearl shows up in support of Pat Summitt's Lady Vols, bare-chested and sporting body paint with the letter "V" spelled out across his chest.  Bruce joined with students to spell out V-O-L-S and led the student section at TBA in cheering on Summitt's squad.

March 16, 2007 -  Pearl leads the Vols to a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament and blows out Long Beach State 121-86 to advance to the second round.

March 18, 2007 - Vols get past Virginia 77-74 to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tourney.

February 23, 2008 - The Vols took their #2 ranking on the road to take on #1 and undefeated Memphis in the most anticipated basketball game in Tennessee history.  Pearl and company came out on top  of John Calipari's Tigers 66-62 to claim their first-ever #1 national ranking.  To date, this game remains the signature win for the Tennessee men's basketball program.

March 5, 2008 - Vols knock off Florida 89-86 to claim their first outright SEC Regular Season Championship in 41 years.

March 21, 2008 - Pearl leads the Vols into the NCAA tournament again as a #2 seed and knocks out American University to advance to the round of 32.

March 23, 2008 - Vols defeat Butler 76-71 in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16.  The win, number 31, caps off the most victories ever in the history of the program before a loss to Louisville closes out the season.

December 3, 2008 - Pearl becomes the second-fastest active coach to reach 400 career victories, trailing only Roy Williams, with win over UNC-Asheville.

April 2, 2009 - As Calipari leaves Memphis for Kentucky, rumors swirl that the Tigers are ready to make Pearl a lucrative contract offer.  Pearl receives a 6-year contract extension to stay at Tennessee.

November 17, 2009 -  Vols set regular-season, school-record for scoring as they blow out UNC-Asheville 124-49 to give Pearl his 100th win at Tennessee. 

January 10, 2010 -  Tennessee gets first win over a #1 ranked team at Thompson-Boling Arena as they defeat the Kansas Jayhawks 74-68.

February 27, 2010 - Vols best #2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats in TBA, 74-65.

March 18, 2010 - Vols give Pearl a nice birthday gift with a 62-59 win over San Diego State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and advance to the Round of 32.

March 20, 2010 - Vols defeat Ohio University 83-69 to advance to the Sweet 16.  It's Pearl's third trip to the Sweet 16 in four years.

March 26, 2010 - Tennessee advances to their first-ever Elite 8 by defeating Ohio State 76-73.  The Vols would lose to Michigan State 70-69 in their attempt to get to the Final Four.


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