It was a move Tennessee had to make.

The university's decision to part ways with men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his immediate staff on Monday was not unexpected.

Yet even after seeing Pearl's assistants — Tony Jones, Steve Forbes, Jason Shay, Ken Johnson and Mark Pancratz — Monday afternoon leaving the Stokley Athletic Center after a meeting with UT officials, it hadn't become reality to me.

Was Tennessee essentially firing the best men's basketball coach in the program's history?

And less than a year after he guided the program to an Elite Eight appearance — one possession shy of a Final Four — for the first time in school history?

The answer was yes.

And it appears UT had no choice.

Especially given the statements the university released late Monday from UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and men's athletics director Mike Hamilton, both of whom publically supported Pearl during press conferences on Sept. 10 and later on Nov. 19.

"I am disappointed with the events that have brought us to this point today, events that I would call 'the cumulative effect of evolving circumstances,'" Cheek said in his statement.

Hamilton gave insight — though vague — into these circumstances in his statement, citing the situation had changed since UT received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA in September.

"During this time, the dynamics of our case with the NCAA have evolved further, including additional violations committed on Sept. 14 and in March 2011," Hamilton said. "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."

A violation in March 2011?

The Sept. 14 "bump" violation was previously well-documented, but UT is now claiming an NCAA violation occurred this month?

Regardless of how minor — or major — this violation was, Pearl and his staff had been on double-secret probation from the university — to steal a line from the movie "Animal House" — since the staff's transgressions came to light in September.

And what about the "recent non-NCAA-related incidents?"

What were these incidents? Does that even matter?

The fact that Pearl and his staff raised more red flags to the university after their initial wrongdoing made the decision to take the program in a different direction even easier.

Looking back, I can't help but remember the first time I ever saw Pearl in person.

It was Sept. 17, 2005.

Pearl had yet to coach a game with the Vols. He was standing by himself, outside Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, on the campus of a school he would later seemingly dominate during his tenure at Tennessee.

Now that it's sunk in that Pearl is no longer coaching at Tennessee, that image of him in Gainesville, Fla., before the Vols lost to the Gators 16-7 is stuck in my head.

As was the case then, on Monday, I could only imagine Pearl, again seemingly alone with something to prove on the campus of a school where he won — and won big.

Only this time, it wasn't because he had yet to gain notoriety.

It was because Pearl was leaving Tennessee with a Thompson-Boling Arena-sized orange blazer to fill.

— Matt Dixon is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at mdixon3@utk.edu and followed on Twitter at @MattDixon3.