KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee fired Bruce Pearl after a season in which the coach was charged with unethical conduct for lying to NCAA investigators during a probe into recruiting.
In a statement released by the school Monday night, athletic director Mike Hamilton said Tennessee officials made the decision to relieve Pearl of his duties after learning about “additional violations committed on September 14 and in March 2011” by the staff.
Tennessee has agreed to pay Pearl $948,728 worth of salary and benefits as part of his dismissal agreement.
In six seasons, Pearl, 51, led the Volunteers to their first No. 1 ranking in 2008 and first NCAA tournament regional finals appearance, missing out on a trip to the 2010 Final Four by a single point.
Pearl acknowledged in a tearful press conference on Sept. 10 that he had given investigators false information when asked about a cookout at his home attended by high school juniors. The NCAA has since charged the Tennessee basketball and football programs with a dozen violations.
After a 75-45 loss to Michigan on Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Pearl said that he planned to be accountable for the mistakes he had made but his “goal and desire is to be the basketball coach at Tennessee next year and for a long time.”
Tennessee docked his salary by $1.5 million over five years, banned him from off-campus recruiting for a year and terminated his contract in September. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive tacked on an eight-game suspension from conference play.
Hamilton and Cheek had voiced support for Pearl after he admitted lying, but last week Hamilton said that Pearl’s future would reviewed once the season ended.
Failing to notify Tennessee of another possible recruiting violation that occurred just four days after his tearful press conference may have ultimately caused Pearl to lose the support of his bosses.
Tennessee officials learned from the NCAA in December that Pearl would be charged with a violation of the NCAA’s “bump rule” after speaking with a high school junior on a recruiting trip to Georgia on Sept. 14.
Pearl, who had a 145-61 record, leaves the school as a popular coach.
An unscientific online poll conducted by The Knoxville News Sentinel after Tennessee received its notice of allegations from the NCAA on Feb. 24 showed 70 percent of the 9,600 respondents still supported Pearl. Fans gathered Sunday in a rally to show support, and Knoxville businesses displayed messages supporting Pearl on Monday.
He promoted Tennessee in a way no other coach had before with antics like appearing at a Lady Vols basketball game with his bare chest painted orange. The fans responded with boosted attendance at Vols games, which prompted athletics officials to upgrade the school’s cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena and build a new basketball practice facility.
Pearl also contributed to the Knoxville community in a way his predecessors hadn’t. He led Tennessee’s annual Outlive campaign to raise money for cancer prevention programs and research and endowed a scholarship in the name of former Vol Dane Bradshaw.
Pearl was hired in March 2005 to replace Buzz Peterson, who had gone 61-59 and neglected to reach the NCAA tournament in four seasons at Tennessee. Pearl had just led Wisconsin-Milwaukee to Sweet Sixteen and finished 86-38 overall after four seasons.
He spent six years as an assistant at Iowa under the tutelage of coach Tom Davis. It was during his Iowa tenure that Pearl recorded a phone conversation with recruit Deon Thomas about Thomas’ recruitment by rival Illinois. Pearl turned the recording over to the NCAA, which investigated and uncovered unrelated recruiting violations by Illinois.
Pearl also spent nine seasons at Southern Indiana, leading the Screaming Eagles to the 1995 Division II national championship.