KNOXVILLE — Tennessee officials say they did not immediately fire former basketball coach Bruce Pearl after he revealed he lied to NCAA investigators because doing so would have deterred others from reporting misconduct.
The university's official response to the NCAA's 12 allegations of violations shows Pearl continued to cover up wrongdoings, though, even after his job was spared.
In July 2010, the coach revealed on his own to NCAA officials investigating possible recruiting violations that he had lied the previous month about improperly hosting prospects at a Sept. 20, 2008, cookout at his home. Pearl's contract was terminated Sept. 9 and was replaced the following month by a new deal that reduced his pay by $1.5 million over five years and imposed strict limitations on his ability to recruit.
"In the view of the university's central and athletics administrations, this was a punitive action against Pearl only slightly less severe than complete termination, which would have been the response had he not come forward on his own with the truth," the document says. "It was believed that terminating Pearl's employment might deter students and staff from reporting misconduct."
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Pearl eventually was fired on March 21.
The 190-page response, which also addresses allegations made by the Volunteers' football staff, was first reported by The Knoxville News Sentinel and later released to other media Monday, two months after Tennessee sent it to the NCAA.
Tennessee has also placed itself on a two-year probation, during which it will provide annual compliance reports to the NCAA and Southeastern Conference, and has imposed minor recruiting restrictions against current basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and football coach Derek Dooley. The NCAA has not issued its final ruling on the 12 allegations.
Specifically, Pearl misleadingly told NCAA enforcement staff on June 14, 2010, that he did not know where a photo of him and then-high school junior Aaron Craft was taken. The photo had been sent anonymously to the NCAA, and attorney Mike Glazier, who has represented Tennessee through much of the investigation, was informed Pearl would be asked about it during his interview.
Pearl later confirmed in an Aug. 5 follow-up interview that the photo was taken at his home, where he was hosting several recruits on unofficial visits, an NCAA violation. A Volunteers basketball player transported the recruits to Pearl's home, where free food and drink were provided, which constituted two more violations.
"I brought them all together. I told them that, you know, we were thrilled, obviously, that they were there and that they were coming to Tennessee but that this part of their visit was not appropriate, not right, and not allowed," Pearl said, according to Tennessee's response. "And two things: one, you're going to have to leave shortly, and I'm sorry, and two, please don't repeat this."
The NCAA enforcement staff interviewed Craft's father, John Craft, on July 9, 2010, about the photo, and John Craft told investigators that Pearl had phoned him after his own interview with the NCAA to see what the Crafts' story would be about the photo and the cookout.
According to the response, John Craft told them Pearl said in the June 14, 2010 conversation, "I've had a discussion with my staff and, uh, we remember the visit, and we remember telling you that we were going out for an informal cookout at my house and that it was illegal for you to be there.
"And I said, 'Coach, if that's your story then, you know, we're going to have two, you know, it's going to be your word versus mine,' " Craft said.
Pearl said he contacted the Crafts to see whether they knew where the photo came from and to warn them the NCAA might contact them.
The coach tearfully admitted he'd misled the NCAA in a Sept. 10 news conference but, four days later, he and associate head coach Tony Jones had a two- to three-minute conversation with recruit Jordan Adams at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., while there to meet with another recruit, a possible secondary violation.
The university said in its response that Adams initiated the conversation, not the coaches, but it acknowledged that Pearl should have done more to either prevent or end the conversation:
"One of the expectations communicated to Pearl with the institution's September disciplinary actions was that he not be involved in any further violations of NCAA rules. Accordingly, the administration was extremely disappointed in the spring of 2011, when information came to light that within days after the September 9, 2010, announcement of the disciplinary actions imposed by the university on Pearl and his staff, Pearl and one of his assistant coaches had put themselves in a position such that the (alleged violation) could occur, even when they had not initiated the impermissible contact."
That alleged violation of the NCAA's so-called bump rule ultimately played a role in Pearl's dismissal.