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What would it take for Tennessee to let Bruce Pearl go?

On the first day of December 2007, Tennessee played in the SEC Championship Game. Twelve weeks later, the #2 Vols beat #1 Memphis in basketball, en route to the program's first appearance at the top of the polls and an SEC Championship. A month later, Pat Summitt won her eighth National Championship. Phillip Fulmer had hired the next great offensive mind in college football; we didn't know what the Clawfense was, we just knew it would be awesome.

And there was peace in the land.

I started writing for this site in December 2008. During my time here, our biggest day-to-day traffic bumps have come because of Lane Kiffin (by far), Bryce Brown, altered serial numbers on handguns, referees at the Music City Bowl, and, for all the wrong reasons, Bruce Pearl.

It's not that we don't appreciate the material. I'd just like to write about winning again - and when we do, I'd like to be able to enjoy it for longer than six months.

That's the distance between the Elite Eight and what I'd like to call "The Press Conference", but as we lead the league in those over the last three years, you have to distinguish "The one where Pearl cried" from, say, "The one where we were going to sing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida."

We bought Bruce's tears then. We reaffirmed our vows when Mike Slive handed down an eight game suspension. Bruce is our basketball coach, we said.

But now, it's getting a little more real. The end result is still months away, but it's beginning to take shape in the distance...just enough for us to speculate wildly on it, and imagine the worst.

Fans of opposing teams have wondered aloud for months about why we didn't just get rid of Pearl. Then they wondered why not only were we not getting rid of him, but we weren't even seriously considering the possibility.

So now, let's at least consider it, even if just for a moment:

For the record, I still support Bruce Pearl as our basketball coach, and I still believe he'll have a job here when all of this is said and done. The reasons Mike Hamilton and/or the university didn't move to fire him are just as true today as they were in September:

  • The Wins. Pearl is the best coach in the history of this program, by far. The Vols have been ranked #1 and made an Elite Eight and three Sweet Sixteens under his watch, heights that had never been reached before. And he's consistently successful: Tennessee should make its sixth straight dance this season, something no Tennessee coach has ever done before and no SEC team has done over the same period.
  • The Money. Just as big for Hamilton, under Pearl the Vols are averaging more than 7,000 more fans per night at Thompson-Boling Arena than showed up during Buzz Peterson's final season in 2005-06.
  • The Perception. Pearl didn't pay players and didn't forge transcripts. Before the lie, Pearl's violation was a minor issue. And even after the lie, the perception remains that other schools are doing far worse than anything in that letter.

A signficant percentage of Tennessee Basketball fans are Tennessee Basketball fans because of Bruce Pearl. Had Hamilton gone after Pearl's job in September, he would've had zero public support for the move, and it would've been an even bigger step toward his own demise than waiting this thing out has become.

The NCAA will have the final say in this matter, and I continue to believe they are the only body capable of breaking up the Pearl/Tennessee marriage. Pearl won't resign, and if Hamilton was going to get rid of him he would've done it already. They both need each other, and right now I think enough of us agree to give Pearl full support on every level.

I believe the NCAA would have to give us no choice, hammering either us or Pearl or both with punishment so severe that we truly had no other option. We love Bruce Pearl...and if this ends, it won't end well. I think all parties are willing to dig in and face additional significant punishment together for Pearl to remain our long as said punishment isn't so severe it leaves us with absolutely no other choice.

So where's the line?