UT Coach: Another Disingenuous Pearl Unearthed

Less than a month ago when discussing his future at Tennessee with Seth Davis of CBS Sports, Vols hoops coach Bruce Pearl painted a dire picture of what could ultimately amount to his demise at the school.

Bruce Pearl crying

(Pearl wasn’t concerned about job security in October)

A misty Pearl told Davis:

“I might not survive this. I don’t have a contract. I might be out of work because of this. Ultimately how they rule is going to have a lot to say with that.”

“They” is the NCAA, which is contemplating penalties against the school after Pearl lied to NCAA investigators during an ongoing probe into Tennessee’s recruiting practices.

Pearl is right, he doesn’t have a contract. But the coach left out some not-so-minor details about his situation with the school.

After Pearl was found to have lied to NCAA investigators, Tennessee terminated his original contract on Sept. 9. The school then set out to obtain a new contract with Pearl that included, for obvious reasons, less favorable terms for the coach. Especially with regards to a termination clause.

With the Vols basketball program hanging by a thread, Pearl received a new contract offer from the school Oct. 8.

Over four months later, Pearl has still not signed the deal thanks to protracted negotiations between the coach and Tennessee.

In other words, Pearl doesn’t have a contract only because he’s chosen to haggle over the terms of it with Tennessee - which still may be hit with significant NCAA sanctions because of Pearl’s misdeeds. (Beyond the school’s self-imposed penalties.)

Then there’s the matter of Pearl’s original, ironclad contract as noted by Andy Katz of ESPN.com on Sept. 17.

Excerpt from Katz piece:

Tennessee cannot terminate coach Bruce Pearl for cause without paying him until there is an NCAA “finding” and, even then, it has to be determined Pearl knowingly engaged in conduct that was a “significant” NCAA violation.

A review of Pearl’s contract by an attorney familiar with these types of cases showed the specific termination clauses that protect Pearl despite his admission he misled NCAA investigators while they were pursuing allegations of recruiting violations. The contract examined had the salary amended in 2009 to increase Pearl’s salary to $1.9 million a year and extended a year through the 2014-15 season.

The NCAA is investigating Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who is protected by his contract.

Pearl, who led the Volunteers to their first Elite Eight last March, was hired at Tennessee in 2005 after coaching Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the Sweet 16.

“It’s hard to imagine a contract that affords a coach more protection than [fomer coach] Jim O’Brien’s contract with Ohio State,” said Columbus-based attorney Joseph Murray, who represented O’Brien in his lawsuit against Ohio State for terminating him for cause prior to an NCAA investigation.

“Bruce Pearl doesn’t have to imagine though, because he’s got just such a contract.”

In other words, just because Tennessee terminated Pearl’s contract and the coach is now working under a letter of appointment doesn’t mean that he would seek to recoup what he’s owed in the original deal if he is subsequently fired.

The situation is this: If the NCAA sets the Vols basketball program ablaze because of Pearl, the coach will likely be fired - but the odds of him getting paid at least some of the money due in his original contract are still reasonably good.

As soon as Pearl signs his new deal, he may be subject to a much less favorable termination clause if the school decides in the future that, “Pearl knowingly engaged in conduct that was a ’significant’ NCAA violation.”

So Pearl is in no hurry to completely distance himself from the original terms of his deal with Tennessee by signing a new contract. In fact, he may just drag it out until the NCAA finally delivers its letter of allegations against him and the school - which could come in as little as two weeks.

Quite a different picture than the bleak landscape a later teary Pearl (3:20) painted for us during his full interview with Davis on CBS Sports.

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