This is one of the hardest parts of being a sports fan. The day when you realize it is time to say goodbye to someone that has meant everything to your college program or professional franchise.
The Atlanta Braves had to do it with the beloved Dale Murphy. The Green Bay Packers had to cut the cord with Brett Favre. Even Michael Jordan didn't retire, for the final time, as a Chicago Bull.
But the situation with Tennessee's rock star basketball coach, Bruce Pearl is quite different than either of those examples. Pearl has meant everything to Tennessee basketball in recent years, but, unfortunately, it's not declining skills or age that is behind this needed change.
The reason for Pearl's hopefully imminent departure from Knoxville is his deceitful arrogance with the NCAA, the University of Tennessee, and the fans.
The program was in shambles when the charismatic leader took over in 2005 after a dreadful three seasons under the overwhelmed Buzz Peterson.
Tennessee has won an outright SEC title, spent a week ranked at No. 1, made the Sweet 16 twice, and the Elite Eight once since Pearl took over the program. He just brought in one of the nation's best recruiting classes as well.
He went shirtless with an orange-painted chest at a Lady Vols game. He has beat the juice out of Florida, until this season. He's gone toe-to-toe with John Calipari on many occasions. He orchestrated the incredible face-lift at the Thompson-Boling Arena.
Simply put, Bruce Pearl has been a rock steady force in the Tennessee athletics department during the rockiest of times for the bell-cow of the university, the Volunteers football program. Pearl made the football problems of the last few years a little easier to take since he was fielding a top ten basketball team for much of that time.
That is, until it was discovered that Bruce Pearl committed some minor NCAA infractions and proceeded to commit a major one by lying to investigators from college basketball's grand governing body. It's really not the initial infraction of lying to investigators that should force the university's hand in this matter.
As a Tennessee fan, I posed this question to myself--Would it be worth enduring the impending NCAA hammer-strike on Pearl and/or the basketball program to keep from having to start all over again?
That hammer-strike could very well be a year's suspension from coaching for Pearl. It could very well include a postseason ban and the loss of scholarships for the basketball program.
Is Tennessee and its loyal fans ready to endure the onslaught of bad publicity and increased scrutiny that is sure to accompany Pearl at every stop for the rest of his career in Knoxville?
Is that really more attractive than firing the whole crew and potentially saving the program from the longterm penalties that surely await?
It turns out that not only did Pearl lie--AND--ask a high school recruit and his family to lie, he and assistant Tony Jones committed yet another NCAA infraction four days after the tearful press conference where Pearl "came clean" about the situation.Before Wednesday's revelations came to light in the form of the NCAA's Letter of Allegations, I was squarely in that camp.
That's not an accident. That is the work of a pathological cheater. That is completely and utterly despicable.
Not only did Pearl play the administration and the NCAA, he played the fans and alumni. I don't know many Vols fans who were not on Pearl's side after that press conference. Pearl knowingly, arrogantly thumbed his nose at everyone by committing that violation just days after the apology.
It is for that reason that the time to apologize has passed. It is for that reason that hoping against hope that the NCAA goes easy on the Vols in the penalty phase is no longer an option.
It is for that reason that Tennessee must say goodbye the once-beloved Bruce Pearl.