For Bruce Pearl and the Tennessee Volunteers, the lion's share of the damage brought on by Pearl's decision to lie to NCAA investigators -- amid the host of NCAA issues Tennessee is dealing with right now -- has already been done. The most successful men's coach in UT men's basketball history is gone. Whatever the NCAA's final judgment in Pearl's case, from scholarship sanctions to a tournament ban and everything in between, there probably isn't much the Committee on Infractions could do that would have a larger impact on the program than that.
In other words, delving into the details of Pearl's firing -- understanding just what the NCAA discovered about his behavior before and after he misled investigators last year -- almost feels beside the point. But it is a worthy exercise, if only as a cautionary tale.
And yes, thanks to the release of Tennessee's 190-page response to the COI's notice of allegations filed earlier this spring and provided to the Knoxville News-Sentinel on Friday, those details are now being made public. What's the new news? Perhaps the biggest revelation is the discussion of Pearl and assistant Tony Jones' infamous "bump" into recruiting target Jordan Adams that occurred -- get this -- just four days after Pearl "emotionally confessed" his lies to NCAA investigators. Yikes:
"The conversation, if you would call it that, probably took 10 to 15 seconds at the most," Pearl said in a Nov. 16, 2010, interview with UT and the NCAA enforcement staff about the "bump" with recruiting target Jordan Adams. "I know the difference between, you know, acknowledging, say hello, and having a brief encounter or a contact, and I did not make a contact with him." [...]
The visit occurred Sept. 14. NCAA associate director of enforcement Joyce Thompson conducted her first interview regarding the bump 15 days later.
"He told me he lied to media, and then he said he confessed to it and that they're just having a violation," Adams told Thompson during his first interview.
Adams said the conversation lasted "about three minutes." He didn't recall much of what Jones said during the interaction, only that he pointed to his Elite Eight ring and "said something to the effect of, 'You can get one of these.' "
Adams also initially told investigators that Pearl gave him specific instruction during a workout with his team; Pearl described the conversation differently, and Adams said Pearl was talking to the entire team, and not him specifically, during the instruction. In its response to the COI, Tennessee argued that the violation was secondary and minor in nature:
"The University understands that a 'bump' that begins inadvertently can easily fall out of that category when the coach realizes that a violation is occurring and he continues the encounter with the prospective student-athlete," the response reads. "However, based upon the brevity of the encounter and nature of Pearl's and Jones' statements, the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that the violation was inadvertent."
That very well could be true. And yes, this is one of those NCAA rules that feels a little outdated. But both of those things may be true, and it doesn't change the fact that Pearl made a massive error in allowing himself to be anywhere that could possibly cause a violation to occur. He was four days out from admitting he lied to investigators. He knew the stakes. He knew that he had the NCAA breathing down his neck. He knew he wasn't going to be able to go out recruiting like nothing was happening; the NCAA doesn't work that way. And -- inadvertent or not -- he still bumped into Jordan Adams.
It's really sort of shocking, and not even in a moral sense. It's just ... baffling.