INDIANAPOLIS – Former Tennessee coaches Bruce Pearl and Lane Kiffin finally got to explain themselves in front of the NCAA.
All they can do now is wait to see if it did good.
Kiffin spent more than four hours answering questions in front of the infractions committee Saturday, then was followed by Pearl, who spent nearly five hours in front of the committee. School officials are hoping the daylong closed-door hearing marks the beginning of the end of a 22-month investigation that rocked the Volunteers’ football and men’s basketball programs and tarnished Tennessee’s reputation.
|Investigations||Committee on Infractions|
|Charges||Infractions Appeals Committee|
|Penalties||2011 Enforcement Experience|
“The hardest part is just being here,” Pearl said. “This was not something I was looking forward to.”
The committee is expected to make a ruling within eight to 12 weeks. That’s when the Volunteers will learn their punishment.
Tennessee faces a dozen major rules violations in the two high-profile sports including accusations that both coaches committed recruiting infractions and that both also failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within those programs.
Pearl, the former Volunteers men’s basketball coach, also was charged with unethical conduct after misleading NCAA investigators during an interview last June when he was asked about hosting high school juniors at a cookout at his house on Sept. 20, 2008 and phoning John Craft, father of recruit Aaron Craft, in an effort to influence Craft’s statement to investigators about the cookout.
Craft just completed his freshman season at Ohio State, whose football program is also under NCAA investigation.
On Sept. 10, in a tearful news conference, Pearl acknowledged he had provided false information to the investigators.
That part was not contested Saturday, but there was plenty of discussion on other issues—and lots of people trying to help Tennessee plead for leniency.
Those attending included, Kiffin, now the Southern California football coach; Pearl, who was fired after last season by Tennessee; Mike Hamilton, the outgoing athletic director; SEC commissioner Mike Slive; Derek Dooley, Tennessee’s new football coach; and Cuonzo Martin, the Vols new men’s basketball coach. Martin and Dooley are not implicated in the charges.
The school’s contingent was so large it forced the NCAA to move its hearing into a bigger conference room, and the hearing was held about five blocks from the home stadium of one of Tennessee’s most famous alums—four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning.
“We are glad we had the opportunity to present our case,” university chancellor Jimmy Cheek said in a statement. “We feel it was a fair hearing and we look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
Kiffin was accompanied at the hearing by USC athletic director Pat Haden, who made his second appearance in front of an NCAA committee in Indianapolis this year. He also attended January’s appeals hearing for USC, which this week was stripped of its 2004 national title by the Bowl Championship Series for NCAA violations.
Tennessee has already taken some steps in hopes of avoiding a punishment that would be that drastic.
It reduced Pearl’s salary by $1.5 million last season and banned him from off-campus recruiting for one year. The SEC also suspended Pearl for eight conference games. In March, Pearl was fired.
The school also lowered the salary for each of Pearl’s three assistants, who were accused of not providing “complete” information about the cookout.
Pearl and two of his assistants, Tony Jones and Steve Forbes also are accused of making 96 impermissible phone calls to 12 recruits or relatives between Aug. 1, 2007, and July 29, 2009, and the school has been charged with failure to monitor the coaching staff’s contacts.
Kiffin and his assistants were accused of making improper calls to recruits, too, after Tennessee officials warned them against it. He made those calls just days before taking the Southern California job in January 2010.
In addition, Kiffin and recruiting intern Steve Rubio are accused of visiting a Florida high school on Oct. 12, 2009, even though Rubio was not permitted to make on-campus visits.
Kiffin’s failure to monitor charge stems from trips taken by members of the school’s athletics hostess program to visit recruits.
Both coaches attended the first 40 minutes of the closed-door hearing, which were set aside for opening statements.
Kiffin then remained in the room, while Pearl and his former assistants left en masse. Pearl wandered down to the hotel lobby, waiting there until Kiffin finished more than four hours later. It took so long the lunch break was delayed twice.
Kiffin would not discuss the specifics of what took place inside the room.
Pearl was the first person back when the hearing resumed after a one-hour break. He spent most of the next five hours back inside the room.
When things finally wrapped up, more than 10 1/2 hours after they started, the emotions were mixed.
“It’s a very thorough process and I’m glad it’s over,” Kiffin said before leaving the downtown Indianapolis hotel for a football camp at Southern Cal. “It was a lot shorter than the last one I sat through, three days of USC’s, and I’m happy it’s over.”
The fallout from the scandal may not be, though.
Hamilton announced this week he would resign at the end of the month. Tennessee women’s athletics director Joan Cronan, also in Indianapolis, will serve as interim vice chancellor and director of athletics until Hamilton’s replacement is picked.
Sometime in August or September, the Volunteers should learn their fate.
“It’s not over because we’ve got to wait 45 or 60 days,” Pearl said.
And for Pearl, who wore an orange and white tie and orange suspenders to the hearing, there was no sense of relief.
“Not really because we paid a very heavy price, all of us here have—my staff and the University of Tennessee,” he said. “So there’s not much relief.”
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