KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The NCAA said it wanted to send a clear message by slapping Bruce Pearl with a three-year show-cause penalty: Coaches are responsible for their programs.
The sanctions announced Wednesday make it harder for the former Tennessee men’s basketball coach to get another co
llege job anytime soon. Pearl is prohibited from recruiting during the next three years, and a school would have to convince the NCAA to change its mind if it wanted to hire him during that time.
“As these allegations are becoming more and more regular, it’s very clear that a head coach is being held responsible for his program,” said Britton Banowsky, Conference USA commissioner and vice-chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.
The NCAA said Wednesday it had punished Pearl for lying to investigators about improperly hosting recruits at his home and urging others to do the same. Former Pearl assistants Tony Jones, Jason Shay and Steve Forbes face the same sanctions, except they were only given one-year show-cause penalties for their own roles in misleading the NCAA.
“Those who are not forthcoming and not cooperative and unethical in their responses, the committee takes that very seriously, and they will be punished appropriately,” said Dennis Thomas, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference commissioner and chair of the Committee on Infractions.
Pearl did not immediate respond to a call by The Associated Press seeking comment.
The Committee on Infractions was impressed with the level of cooperation it got from Tennessee during the two-year investigation into recruiting by Pearl’s program and the football program under then-coach Lane Kiffin. It chose not to punish the university beyond its self-imposed sanctions, which include two years of probation beginning Wednesday.
“The NCAA commented very positively about our cooperation,” UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said. “We have worked hard to make things right and that has been accepted by the committee. We have great coaches and great student-athletes, and now it’s time to go out there and compete.”
The NCAA also concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to prove 12 recruiting violations committed by Kiffin and his staff were any more than secondary violations. Those charges included 16 improper recruiting phone calls and impermissible contact between football staff interns and recruits.
Still, the NCAA wasn’t happy with the way Kiffin managed the football program during his one season at Tennessee. Kiffin left in January 2010 to coach Southern California.
“Some of the violations received nationwide publicity and brought the football program into public controversy,” the report said. “This is not a record of which to be proud.”
Nonetheless, Kiffin was pleased that the NCAA “based its decision on the facts and not on perception.”
“I’m also very grateful that the Tennessee football program was cleared of any wrongdoing,” he said. As I have said before, we always have been committed to following NCAA rules and bylaws both at Tennessee and now at USC, and we always will be.”
The NCAA was most troubled by Pearl misleading enforcement staff during a June 14, 2010, interview by telling them he did not know where a photo of him and then-high school junior Aaron Craft was taken.
Pearl later confirmed in a follow-up interview two months later that the photo was taken at a cookout at his home, where he was hosting several recruits on unofficial visits, an NCAA violation.
“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 a transcript of his interview with NCAA investigators. “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.
Those actions led to the NCAA’s charge of unethical conduct against Pearl. Jones, Shay and Forbes were charged with failing to cooperate with the NCAA for neglecting to reveal information about the cookout at Pearl’s house.
Pearl and the assistants were also charged with making 94 improper phone calls to recruits, which resulted in a charge of failure to monitor against Tennessee.
Before firing Pearl in March Tennessee had docked the basketball staff’s pay, and the Southeastern Conference suspended Pearl from eight league games during the 2010-11 season.
University officials have placed additional recruiting restrictions on current basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and football coach Derek Dooley, neither of whom have been accused of any wrongdoing.