Bruce Pearl joined our 3 Hour Lunch radio show on Nashville’s 104.5 today. Most of y’all know that I’m on air every day from 12-3 central and as we break news on the radio, I’ll be posting those interviews in their entirety here for you guys to listen to and read about. We had Bruce Pearl on for nearly twenty minutes today in what I believe is his most substantial interview since his firing by Tennessee.
We touched on a variety of topics — whether Pearl will coach in the NBA’s D-League, the NCAA’s interview that got him in trouble, whether he’d like to coach again in college, and, of course, his firing from Tennessee.
Asked whether he had trouble forgetting about the NCAA interview that cost him his job, Pearl said that he did:
“Unfortunately it (the interview that cost him his job) is in my mind, it is in my heart. When you wake up, when you go to bed, it crosses your mind all the time. But that’s a cross that I’ve got bear and it’s not just that interview, but it’s how everything turned out. I continue to swallow a major pill of accountability…God’s got a plan and His plan was that we were going to be done coaching at Tennessee at this time. That was His plan. And we’re going to follow it, follow it with as much honor and integrity as we can. But I’m not going to deny that we’re sad and that we’re disappointed.”
In particular, Pearl returned again and again to the decisions made by Tennessee back in September when the university supported him and how that changed as the months passed. “As far as the suspension was concerned,” Pearl said, “I was hoping, and thought, that we went through all of this…and went through tremendous pains to penalize the program so that we could survive this. So to have gone through all of this and then to have kind of thrown in the towel at the end…I guess that was disappointing.”
Pearl’s troubles all stem from a photograph of now Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft attending a BBQ at Pearl’s house during a visit to the campus during Craft’s junior season. Craft, who was not allowed to visit Pearl’s house per NCAA rules, was photographed inside the coach’s house and that photo was later mailed to the NCAA. When shown the photograph from inside his home, Pearl said he didn’t know where the photograph had been taken, before subsequently changing his story and acknowledging that the photo was from his home.
Asked how the Aaron Craft photo found its way to the NCAA, Pearl offered his first public comments on the matter: “It doesn’t matter,” Pearl said, “and I don’t have any idea how it got there. That’s really not the point. And I understand that there were some questions about how the picture was delivered, and the timing of the investigation, what the focus was or wasn’t, and that stuff will be discussed at a later date. Can’t talk about it now, because we’re still in the midst of the process. We’ll wait to hear what the committee has to say…All we can do is pray that we’ll be treated fairly.”
Since the NCAA interview when Pearl lied about the Craft photo, reports have surfaced that the University of Tennessee’s attorney knew for six days of the existence of the photo and did not advise Pearl of its existence. Asked whether he wished that information had been shared with him, Pearl replied: “Some of the counsel, some of the decisions, some of the moves that we made, we just couldn’t have handled it any worse. We made a situation that was bad wind up being disastrous.”
Pearl also discussed his program’s wrongdoing in light of the continuing storm of violations raining down in college athletics: “We didn’t have ineligible student athletes, and we didn’t pay players, and there weren’t agents involved, and there was no academic fraud; there’s a lot of things that this wasn’t, but there were some things about it that were wrong…Those were some of the reasons why I feel like we could have gotten through this thing together.”
Asked whether he felt he’d been judged too harshly given the comparative lightness of his NCAA offense, Pearl replied:: “Who wants to go through what I went through at Tennessee? What I went through personally and what my coaching staff went through?…It’s not death, but it’s devastating. So we serve as a very visible example — not so much for what we did — what we did was secondary for the most part as far as some of the violations and the rules, but the way we handled the investigation, it went wrong. We tried to correct it…But I don’t mind serving as an example of a very, very heavy price to pay for some of those mistakes.”
Pearl also spoke extensively about his future once the committee on infractions issues its final report. Discussing his interview with the NBA D League’s Texas Thunder, Pearl said: “It really went well. It’s a really interesting opportunity…Their entire coaching staff has really reached out to me and this would be an opportunity to learn the pro game.” Asked if he was leaning towards taking the job, Pearl wavered: “Prior to going down to Dallas for my interview the lean was that I was probably not going to do it. But having been there and met the people the lean now is that it’s a possibility. It’s a family decision. I’d have to leave my family, I’m a divorced dad, and there’d be some kids that aren’t out of school yet and in college yet that are encouraging me that are saying, “Daddy it’s only six months, you should go.”
Pearl continued, “Donnie Nelson has put no timetable on me, and he’s put no pressure on me…It’s kind of neat to be wanted again.”
Asked if he expects to coach college basketball again, Pearl replied, “Yeah, I would. I certainly would.” Pearl continued, “As soon as I’m allowed it (coaching in college) would be my intention. I’ve been doing it my entire life and I would like to think that the good outweighs the bad. And the good has very little to do with winning or losing, it has to do with..six kids graduating this year.”
As the University of Tennessee comes to grips with a Pearless future, Bruce was asked whether he’d ever be interested in returning to coach at UT. Initially Pearl laughed and a made a joke about being on Coach Cuonzo Martin’s staff if he was asked. Pressed further, he laughed anew and said, ‘We’ll have to see where we are.”
In the meantime, Pearl is also considering a future in television: “That’s (television’s) certainly something that is on the table for me…Yeah, that’s definitely a possibility.”
Asked what his relationship with his assistant coaches is like in the wake of the staff’s firing, Pearl replied: “You know, it’s okay…we stay in touch more or less. We’re just sad that it had to end.”
“I’ll always,” Pearl said, “love the University of Tennessee.”