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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Slive says he had no role in Pearl firing

By Eamonn Brennan

SEC commissioner Mike Slive was an unusually large part of the Bruce Pearl story. After Pearl publicly admitted to misleading NCAA investigators last fall -- an admission that eventually led to the end of Pearl's successful tenure at Tennessee -- Slive took the unprecedented step of suspending Pearl for eight conference games before the NCAA had an opportunity to rule on Pearl's case.

It's hard to say that decision dramatically affected Tennessee's season; the Vols were inconsistent all year, and that didn't change when Pearl left the sideline for eight games. But Slive's suspension did set something of a tone for the Pearl debacle. Clearly, these were serious issues, and they would be dealt with accordingly.

So ... just how far did Slive's impact on the Pearl fiasco go? Did the SEC commish affect Tennessee's decision to fire its coach? Slive took questions from reporters at an Associated Press Sports Editors conference at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Monday, and his answer to that particular question was "no":
Slive said he nor any member representing the SEC tried to influence UT’s decision to ultimately fire Pearl.

“The employment relationship of a coach and athletic administrator is in the sole purview of the institution,” he said. “It is not something that a conference has any authority over or gets involved in.”

Whatever Slive's role, it's clear Tennessee's stance on Pearl's continued employment changed over the course of the 2010-11 season. After Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton and Pearl made their initial announcement, both Hamilton and UT president Jimmy Cheek stood by Pearl. Hamilton said it was UT's intention to keep its coach; Cheek said, "Bruce is our coach, and he's going to be our coach for many years." Somewhere along the line, for whatever reason, that stance became, "OK, we've really got to fire Bruce Pearl."

Some believe Slive's decision, oversight or even advice helped produce Tennessee's turnaround. At the very least, Tennessee seemed to realize that its June hearing with the NCAA Committee on Infractions would go far less smoothly if Pearl, an admitted cheater, arrived up in Indianapolis in a creamsicle suit.

In any case, we do know one thing: Slive's relationship with Pearl -- which dates all the way back to Pearl's showdown with Illinois coach Jimmy Collins over the Deon Thomas scandal in 1989 -- is still on solid ground:
[Slive] ... said he had “two very different conversations” with the former UT men’s basketball coach before and after his March dismissal. Asked if he still had a good relationship with Pearl, Slive smiled.

“Mine is,” Slive said.

Good to know?