Mike, you're better than this. Don't get me wrong; I think you're plenty smart, and I think you've done some good things. But lately, I just don't know what you're thinking.
Last year was hard. I think everyone knows that - the football team had Year Zero, Home of the 8-5 Until You Include Plays After The Clock Stops Running, In Which Case It Was 6-7 season. Poor Derek Dooley got himself dropped into a mess of a situation. It's never easy to hire a ...well, second head coach in as many seasons. Getting rid of Fulmer was a hard enough decision, and while the Lane Kiffin hiring might've been
a cheap way to get Monte Kiffin a worthwhile gamble a shot in the dark a desperate attempt to remain nationally relevant you know maybe we shouldn't talk about Kiffin. Point being, he left and left the program in the lurch. Dooley looks like the right hire for now, and for that, we're thankful.
But it's not the football team that's got me concerned. What on earth are you trying to do to the basketball program?
Yes, Bruce Pearl screwed up. I think the fans realize that. But after publicly supporting him all season and saying he's going to be Tennessee's coach through whatever the NCAA throws at us, the manner he was let go was less a firing and more a summary public execution. It began, fittingly, right before the tournament; why on earth do you go on radio and announce that you're going to evaluate Pearl's performance at the end of the season? That's AD-speak for "this dude is gone", and it's timed so badly.
Let me say right now that I don't know what he did, and I'm not really concerned over whether he should've been fired. I think the writing was on the wall that Pearl wasn't going to be able to stick around; the NCAA has spent the better part of the last calendar year getting raspberries from a lot of schools, and Pearl's case was one of the first to come up on the docket. They weren't going to take it easy, even with the suspensions Tennessee and the SEC levied on him (in what I can only presume was an attempt to lesson the NCAA's hammer; we'll see how that turns out). I wouldn't be surprised at all if the NCAA told you what was going to happen if you kept Pearl, and that did it for you. So yeah, Pearl probably had to go. I get that.
But you don't - you don't - go on radio to say that you're "evaluating his performance." That team has dealt with the kind of headaches that put losing your best player and a third of the team to shame; you don't tell them - publicly, no less - their coach is toast when they are. That results in things like being on the wrong end of the largest 8-9 margin of victory, once the team realizes it's not a team anymore. That's not good for the brand.
Know what's also not good for the brand? Dismissing Pearl, essentially, through the media. The fans have no idea what you think of it, because there still hasn't been a press conference to announce Pearl was fired. Tennessee has a new coach now (more on him in a minute), so that time has come and gone. I know Pearl's no longer the coach, and yeah, I get that you're concerned about what the NCAA might do based on your remarks, but you announce he's been canned. You may no comment the rest of the press conference, but you at least face the media. At least have the grace to give the most successful coach the fans have seen in a generation the dignity of a public funeral.
On a related media note: well done getting Cuonzo Martin, and better done keeping that completely under wraps. Nobody believed it at first, since nobody thought he was coming here. It was a good move and - as far as I can tell - a pretty slick one. So why announce that he's going to be the new Tennessee head coach about 6 seconds after the Final Four is finalized? Were you trying to sneak it in under the wire, in hopes that we'd all wake up on Monday and go "oh hey, there's a new coach. Must've slept through it!"? That might've worked last decade, but not now. It was awkward. Not egregious, but awkward, and after everything else with Pearl, it came off all wrong. "Hey, let's dismiss Pearl by omission and then hire this guy and hope nobody notices." Why not make it obvious that Tennessee's moving on? Instead we got a hastily-announced press conference (which again didn't include any questions on Pearl, so ...points for consistency?) and more questions than before.
And then nobody called anyone. Sure, it was close to a recruiting dead period, but the Chris Jones and Kevin Ware headaches could've been easily avoided. How? With two phone calls: "Hey, it's Mike; don't worry, we haven't forgotten about you and we still want you here, but we've got all kinds of stuff to deal with in-house. Can we call you in 10 days?" Boom. 30 seconds. Easy. Instead, we got 10 days of heartache played out online and - more importantly for some - print media. (Does The Commercial Appeal really need an excuse to poke holes in us?) It was sloppy, and after Pearl, and after Martin's hiring, it started to look just a wee bit malicious. Not that it was, but it certainly looked that way.
And now word comes out that the ticket violation - the straw that broke Pearl's back - wasn't really an issue. So great. What was the point of that being too much, then? I think we would've understood had you talked to us and told us what was going on. "In the face of the NCAA allegations, the University of Tennessee will regretfully part ways with Bruce Pearl." Something like that; I'm not a speechwriter. But you shouldn't have needed cover to make a decision that probably needed to be made. We're smart; we figure these things out. Again, it's not the decision, it's how it happened. Process.
If the national media tells you that you need to do something, that doesn't make them right. Heck, if the fans tell you that you need to do something, that doesn't necessarily make us right. It's your job to do the right thing. However, it's not a stretch to say that Tennessee fans matter more to you than the national media. In this fiefdom, you're the big cheese. We're the serfs. That's just how it is. Yeah, we don't have a whole lot of power on our own, but we'll go to war for you and our taxes - so to speak - fund the fief. The national media? They're the guys three kingdoms away eating cheese and wine and talking about how this vintage isn't as robust as previous years. And yes, the NCAA compliance offices are Charlemagne.
Pay attention here, because this part is important: your constituents are the fans. Not the national media. Not Florida fans. Not Alabama fans. Us. And as far as we're concerned, your job is twofold: put the athletic programs in the best position they can be in to succeed and communicate with us when things change. That second part of the job pretty clearly didn't happen, and I'm not sure that the men's basketball program is in the best position to succeed. It sure wasn't last month. The rest of the job? Details. We want to trust that you have the best interests of Tennessee at heart. We want you to tell us when things happen - big things, like, say, firing a coach - and we want to believe. That's it. It's easy, right?
So talk to us. This is all so fixable. I don't think you should go anywhere - not right now, at least - but I'd be lying if I said I was happy with how you've done your job over the last 30 days, Help me change my mind, Mike. I want to like you again.