Former coach happy to see Pearl squirm
Jimmy Collins had been waiting for two decades to say it.
"What goes around comes around,” said the former Illinois assistant, who was accused by Bruce Pearl of offering a recruit a boatload of cash and a new car. "Everyone knew he wasn’t above board.”
It was exactly 20 years ago when Pearl, then an assistant under Tom Davis at Iowa, tossed out the allegations Collins had offered prized recruit Deon Thomas and his grandmother $80,000 and a new car.
Everywhere Collins went for two years, he was viewed as a cheater.
"Just about every day in the Chicagoland area, something was written about it,” Collins told FOXSports.com. "It was a dark time in my life.”
Finally, after two years, Collins was essentially cleared of any wrongdoing by the NCAA.
"But it’s not as if I was vindicated,” Collins said. "People would come up to me and say that I beat it. That’s prison talk for you having a good lawyer.”
Pearl was regarded in the industry as a whistle-blower after recording conversations with Thomas and turning them over to the NCAA. Instead of getting a Division I head coaching gig, Pearl was forced to work his way up the ranks from Division II Southern Indiana and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
After taking Wisconsin-Milwaukee to a pair of NCAA tournaments in his four seasons at the school, he was hired at Tennessee — where he’s finally began to shed the label that plagued him for so long.
He did it by turning around a mediocre program in Knoxville and making it a legitimate national player, with five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances upon his arrival and advancing one step away from the Final Four last March.
Then came Friday’s teary-eyed news conference in which Pearl apologized for his lack of honesty with the NCAA in the midst of a 17-month investigation into his Tennessee Volunteers basketball program that began way back in April of 2009.
Pearl said he provided “false and misleading information” to the NCAA.
"I have no tolerable answer for why I didn’t tell the truth the first time, “ said Pearl, whose Vols received an official letter of inquiry from the NCAA on Friday. "And I take full responsibility for my actions and those of my coaching staff.”
"I let my family down, the university down, our fans down, and I let my players down,” Pearl added.
Now, Pearl can only sit and wait after Tennessee self-imposed sanctions that included taking a $2 million hit on the remainder of his contract and also not being allowed to go off campus for recruiting for an entire year. In addition, all of his assistants also have sanctions regarding the length of their off-campus recruiting as well — from three months to one year.
"Big deal,” said one high-major head coach. "He’ll still get players.”
Pearl has done it before. In fact, he was able to do so as recently as the summer of 2009 when he chose to coach the U.S. Maccabi team in Israel and missed nearly the entire July recruiting period.
Pearl has brought in talent since he came to Knoxville, but he’s taken risks. Both Ramar Smith and Duke Crews were tossed from the program a couple years ago for, what multiple sources confirmed, were failed drug tests.
Then, last New Year’s Day, four players were caught with a pair of guns and marijuana. Ultimately, the team’s top player, Tyler Smith, took the fall and was tossed from the team.
There are issues at just about every school, but what we’ve learned here is that Pearl isn’t exactly a choir boy.
"The thing was that his allegations against me was to cover up what he was doing,” said Collins, who retired this past summer after a 14-year stint as the head coach at Illinois-Chicago. "It was documented and said by Deon Thomas’ grandmother that I didn’t do anything, but Bruce Pearl did.”
"But the NCAA wasn’t concerned about Bruce Pearl,” he added. "They were just focused on investigating Illinois.”
Now, Pearl is the center of an NCAA investigation — one that apparently centers on improper phone contact with recruits.
The details of Pearl’s transgressions haven’t been made public yet.
However, it would seem far-fetched that Tennessee would self-impose such significant penalties on Pearl and the Vols' program for an abundance of phone calls. Kelvin Sampson wound up losing his job at Indiana due to excessive phone calls, but he was a multiple offender.
Now, Pearl can only sit and wait for the NCAA to wrap up its investigation and deliver a ruling on whether the sanctions Tennessee imposed on itself were enough.
Last time Pearl was involved with the NCAA, he was basically blackballed. This time, Pearl could be fortunate just to have a job.
"It’s very ironic,” Collins said. "In the basketball world, we all live in glass houses.”
Pearl’s may have just been shattered.