The Bruce Pearl era is over at Tennessee.
Pearl was fired by UT Monday after six seasons as the men's head basketball coach. UT released statements by both athletics director Mike Hamilton and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek on Monday night confirming Pearl’s firing.
“Today, we are announcing that we have reached an agreement with Bruce Pearl that will result in him and his immediate staff being relieved of their duties with the University of Tennessee men’s basketball program,” Hamilton said in the statement.
Hamilton said the search process for a new basketball coach will begin immediately, with current assistant coach Houston Fancher assuming the role of interim head coach.
Terms of the university’s agreement with Pearl include the former head coach being paid his current salary through June 30, 2011. Beginning July 1, Pearl will receive $50,000 per month for 12 months along with health insurance benefits for a total cumulative amount of $948,728. The remaining coaching staff will receive their current salary through July 31.
The statement by Hamilton touched on the past year’s NCAA investigation into Pearl and his basketball staff, including violations committed on Sept. 14, 2010 and a previously unmentioned violation committed in March 2011.
“The cumulative effect of the evolution of the investigation combined with a number of more recent non-NCAA-related incidents have led to a belief that this staff cannot be viable at Tennessee in the future,” Hamilton said.
Cheek echoed Hamilton’s statement.
“From the University’s perspective, this decision is an institutional decision, with counsel and input from many who know and love this university,” Cheek said in the statement.
Hamilton apologized to fans for comments made regarding Pearl’s job security prior to UT’s NCAA first-round game against Michigan last week.
“Lastly, I want to apologize to our fans for my untimely comments prior to last week’s NCAA appearance,” Hamilton said. “While my comments were never intended for harm, they became an unneeded distraction to what has already been a year of distractions.”
Pearl informed fans via his Facebook page on Monday afternoon that he had been fired.
“I will preface this by saying that I love the University of Tennessee and the Volunteer pride,” Pearl said on his Facebook page Monday afternoon. “That said, I have disappointed not only myself, but you as fans, in my actions involving violations of NCAA rules. I am forever grateful to the fans to let me coach their team. I will be a Volunteer for life!"
Associate head coach Tony Jones, assistant coaches Jason Shay and Steve Forbes, Ken Johnson, director of basketball operations, and Mark Pancratz, assistant to the head coach, were seen entering the Stokley Athletic Center to meet with UT officials around 4:00 p.m. Monday and exited the building a short time later, declining to comment.
Pearl's future with the university began unraveling at a Sept. 10 press conference, where Pearl acknowledged he provided “false and misleading” information to the NCAA regarding a barbecue at his home with three then-junior high school prospects, all of whom were verbally committed to Pearl at the time.
Hamilton and Cheek each expressed their desire at the September press conference for Pearl to remain the program's head coach moving forward. The university self-imposed salary reductions and recruiting restrictions on Pearl and his assistant coaches. Pearl coached without a contract this season after his previous one was voided because of the admitted violations.
In November, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive suspended Pearl for the first eight conference games of the season.
Tennessee received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA in February, charging Pearl with several major violations, including an unethical conduct charge.
The notice also charged Pearl and Jones with illegal contact with a high school junior on Sept. 14, four days after the initial press conference, where an emotional Pearl expressed his regret for his actions.
Pearl guided the Vols to the NCAA Tournament in each of his six years as coach, a school record. The Vols reached the Sweet 16 three times (2006, ’07, ’08) and the Elite Eight in 2010 for the first time in school history.
Pearl finishes his UT tenure with a career record of 145-61, including 65-21 in SEC games. Under Pearl, UT won the SEC regular-season title in 2008, and claimed three SEC Eastern Division titles.
UT's season ended last Friday with a 75-45 loss to Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Senior point guard Melvin Goins acknowledged the NCAA investigation, as well as Pearl's future job status, could've been a factor in the Vols' recent disappointing 19-15 season, the only season UT failed to win 20 games under Pearl.
“It was wearing on us from day one,” Goins said outside Thompson-Boling Arena Monday afternoon. “Just to have your coach going through that and knowing that he's given us his all going to work every day and going through a tough situation like that. It says a lot about his character. Just says a lot about what kind of guy he his, man. I'm a big supporter of coach Pearl.
“... Coach is a great guy. He gave me an opportunity that most coaches in the nation wouldn't have gave me. It's been a great time to play under him.”
Before coming to Knoxville, Pearl was the head coach at Southern Indiana (1992-2001), where he won the Division II national championship in 1995, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2001-05), where he guided the Panthers to the Sweet 16 in his final year.