Could we see Bruce Pearl back on the sidelines anytime soon? Possibly, if the NCAA doesn’t slap the former Tennessee coach with a show-cause penalty.
Pearl was fired by Tennessee shortly after the Volunteers lopsided loss to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament in March. Pearl was cited for inappropriate contact with recruits and then providing false information to the NCAA during the investigation.
In his first interview since being fired, Pearl said he’ll get another coaching job.
“I do think that I'm going to have the opportunity to coach again," Pearl told 790 The Zone in Atlanta last week. “I've got to wait and see what the Committee on Infractions, what they say, coming up probably sometime in the middle of August and how quickly will they allow me to come back into coaching...A lot's going to be hinging on that decision.”
Pearl has positive precedent on his side. Former Cal-Berkley coach Todd Bozeman was hit with an eight-year show-cause penalty in 1997 after it was revealed he paid the parents of a player $30,000 so they could travel to see their son play.
Bozeman’s show-cause penalty was lifted in 2005. He took over as head coach at Morgan State in 2006 and has led the Bears to the NCAA Tournament twice and the NIT once. Bozeman became the first person to return from a show-cause penalty and coach another college team.
Former Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson was hit with a five-year show-cause penalty, but hasn’t returned to the college ranks. Former Baylor coach Dave Bliss is under a show-cause order until 2015.
A show-cause order means that no NCAA member school could hire a coach without permission. The NCAA came down particularly hard on Bozeman in part because he lied to school and NCAA investigators about the payments and waited until a week before the hearing to come clean.
Although Pearl lied to investigators about the inappropriate contact he had with recruits, there were no payments involved. He acknowledged his mistake during the interview.
“I think there were some decisions that we made, specifically, in my visit with the enforcement staff,” Pearl told the radio station. “I answered about 150 questions. I answered 148 of them honestly. There were two questions that I did not answer honestly.”
The question is what can the NCAA do to punish Pearl? Since Pearl doesn’t have a job and can't be suspended next season, a show-cause order may be the only weapon the NCAA has in its arsenal.
Pearl believes the current climate in college sports –Jim Tressel’s troubles at Ohio State and Lane Kiffin’s problems at USC– could have an effect on his dealings with the NCAA.
“I think that it wound up hurting me because I think times as they are right now, we all kind of get lumped into one, big 'These are the guys that violate the rules, these are the cheaters,'” Pearl said of Tressel’s scandal. “I actually think that trend has kind of hurt me a little bit.”
Another thing Pearl has going for him is that Tressel's actions involved covering up infractions as well as playing ineligible players. Although the NCAA has sent vibes that it will come down hard on coaches, Pearl could avoid a stiff sanction because was already punished numerous times by Tennessee and the SEC.
Pearl's acknowledgement of his violation notwithstanding, he said trust has become a major issue between coaches and the NCAA.
Said Pearl: "There's got to be a trust factor. You've got to kick it up a level. If your guys are involved in a situation, you've gotta kick it up to a boss as quickly as you possibly can and trust the system. And I don't know that we trust the system enough to make that call."