On the surface it would appear the University of Tennessee’s athletic program, which has been among the worst thugs in the nation for the past few years, has now gotten past the shame and loathsome reputation brought on by blatant NCAA rules violations and chronic off-the-field misbehavior.
UT has replaced its athletic director and its tainted coaches, the football team won on Saturday under widely-respected Derek Dooley, and with Pat Summit’s Alzheimer-type dementia the only pressing worry, it is believed newly-hired Dave Hart and the ever-steady Joan Cronan will eventually skipper the Vols back to national respectability in given time.
But last week Gary Parrish, who writes for CBS Sports.com, offered a far-different view, one filled with cruel sadness and residual despair. The headline read, “While Pearl lives in luxury, his ex-assistants go through upheaval,” and the picture the veteran writer painted of what has happened since the NCAA figuratively banned for basketball coach Bruce Pearl from coaching for the next three years is heart-wrenching.
Pearl, with a history that includes how he cheated, lied and then tried to cover it up, has seemingly come out like a rose. After making $2 million a year at Tennessee, Pearl finally resigned this spring when the noose from 10 major rules violations got so tight he could no longer hang on. That is when UT’s questionable leadership promptly rewarded Pearl with a $1 million severance package and wealthy backers set him up as a six-figure vice president who today works for a wholesale grocery firm in Knoxville until presumably he can return to college coaching again.
Two of his assistants at UT, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay, have hardly been as fortunate. While the strong belief is both were mere pawns under Pearl’s rule, the two have ended up at Northwest Florida State, where Forbes makes $60,000 as the head coach and Shay makes $20,000 as his assistant.
Before Forbes was found not to be “forthcoming” to NCAA investigators, he was making $200,000 a year at Tennessee. Shay, also caught up in covering for Pearl’s program, was making $150,000. That’s now gone; as Forbes told Parrish, “My monthly check doesn’t even cover the monthly mortgage payment” on his old house in Knoxville and hinted the house is probably heading for foreclosure.
The wives of both former assistants are now working as elementary school teachers in the Florida panhandle and as both of UT’s “secondary victims” of the NCAAA wrath scramble to keep their footing, Pearl’s wife continues to send them rosy Facebook messages. "They took five or six vacations, and here we were trying to sell a house and, for me, find my next job," Shay told Parrish, the emotion clear in his voice. "Watching them go on five or six vacations didn't go over so well."
But what was worse is that day when the NCAA investigators were hot on Pearl’s trail, and Forbes was shown a picture of his boss with a promising basketball recruit that had been taken at a barbeque. The photo was taken at the head coach’s home, which is quite illegal. Of course, the investigator already knew where the picture was taken because almost any CSI viewer could recognize Pearl’s house in the background.
What was Forbes to do? If he had admitted it was at Pearl’s $2.3 million house, he would have gotten fired before he did. Worse, if he “ratted out” his coach, word would quickly flashed through the tightly-knit fraternity of basketball coaches that Forbes was a snitch. "You do that in this business and you're done," Forbes told CBS’s Parrish. "Blackballed. You're not loyal." And Shay added, “You're selling cars.”
So what does the glib Pearl say about the wreck he caused that hurt those who had worked 10 years for him. “I understand why the assistants and their families could be upset," Pearl told Parrish. "I just hope that through all the years we worked together, they always felt like I took good care of them. But I understand the tremendous hardship this has placed on all of us."
Hardship? No, as the NCAA investigation proved true, it was a case of blatant cheating against the very rules UT officials had long vowed to keep sacred. "It was a bad situation, but we should've never been in that situation," Pearl’s longtime assistant told the CBS reporter. "It was so stupid. It was all just so stupid," said Steve Forbes, formerly of the University of Tennessee.