As a fan, I'm exhausted.
From Phillip Fulmer's final season until today, we've seen too much, defended our program too many times from too many things, and been rewarded with positive moments far too little. We rallied with all we had behind a football team that went 7-6, only to watch our coach walk out the door a few weeks later. And the one saving grace - for us, and for Mike Hamilton - throughout these last two years has been our basketball team, who marched through its own drama when four players were arrested on January 1, and brought us our greatest joy of the last two years with the school's first ever Elite Eight appearance back in March.
But today, the program and the man who have been our only real joy suffered a potentially huge blow. Details are still not completely clear, but Bruce Pearl and the vast majority of his assistant coaching staff have been taken off the road in recruiting, and Pearl will take a reduction in salary worth $1.5 million over the five years that currently remain on his contract. Here's the official press release on punishments from the university.
So now we wait and hope that the NCAA says that this is punishment enough. The issue at hand appears to be excessive contact with recruits, which is one thing...but also, that Pearl (and it sounds like the entire staff) covered it up or intentionally misled the NCAA when questioned about it, which is something else entirely. Whether Pearl came forward of his own guilty conscience, or we were going to get caught...who knows. It's out there now, Pearl did come forward, and the university did respond.
For many people, Bruce Pearl is Tennessee Basketball. And so for many people, the initial concern isn't even what we did or didn't do wrong, but how this might in any way jeopardize Pearl's career at Tennessee, and if any postseason bans will be coming. Pearl sounded very contrite in his press conference, and he may be. But what was a golden image for Pearl in Knoxville has been tarnished...and whether Pearl, Hamilton, or our basketball team will survive it, who knows.
We're still here, exhausted though we may be. We'll still cheer for her, though worst case scenarios make you think about the impact Pearl's had on basketball, and how much would be left if this thing goes really south in recruiting or in the coaching situation. But this is a sad day for Tennessee, no doubt...and I really hope we can make a good day happen again, soon. Like Saturday.