Monday, March 21, 2005

Bruce Pearl: Used Car Salesman?

There is quite an article in the Chicago Sun Times about the Bruce Pearl/Jimmy Collins incident. While it comes from the side of Illinois, it does seem to be the most in-depth and detailed account of the entire situation. The story paints Pearl as the slimy underhanded assistant who is willing to do anything to move up in the coaching stratosphere. Basically, from everything I have heard, this is pretty accurate. He was a smooth talking yes man when he was an assistant and is a charismatic slickster as a head coach. The young man over whom all the ruckus was over is named Deon Thomas. He was leaning towards Pearl's Iowa program, but the overzealous and shady Pearl made his grandmother wary, and Thomas decided on Illinois.

"It was an intense time,'' recalled Thomas, now playing on a European
championship team in Israel. "He [Pearl] was a pest, but not the only one. I
tried to blow him off. I liked Iowa. They made a lot of interesting offers to a
kid from the ghetto who had nothing.''
But Thomas' grandmother told him:
"Deon, I don't trust him. I don't know him, but I don't like his eyes.''
"If she says I'm not going [to Iowa], I'm not going,'' Thomas said.
When Thomas informed Pearl of his decision to attend Illinois, Pearl went ballistic. He had an inkling about the turnabout because he had been paying Thomas' closest
friend, Renaldo Kyles, to report every move. He was aware that Illinois had
closed the gap and Thomas had changed his mind. Earlier, Pearl had committed
an unpardonable sin by skirting Hambric's policy and attempting to obtain a
transcript when Hambric and Thomas were on a basketball trip to Europe. Davis
apologized for his overzealous assistant's indiscretion, but the die was cast.
"Pearl was trying to help himself and do a job for his coach,'' said
Hambric, who retired after the 2003-04 season. "It proved my point about what I
tried to teach my players about people, that you can't trust them just because
they are nice to you. Don't be so quick to label them as friends. They are like
lawyers and used-car salesmen.''

Pearl was so pissd it seems he just wanted to get back at those who outdid him in the recruiting process.

Later, Pearl taped a two-minute telephone conversation with Thomas and handed
the evidence to the NCAA, prompting an investigation. In the tape, made without
Thomas' knowledge, it was alleged that Thomas confirmed he was offered $80,000
and a Chevrolet Blazer to sign with Illinois. Thomas denied the allegation.
"Pearl asked me, 'Deon, I heard you got $80,000 and a Blazer from
Illinois,''' Thomas recounted. "I said, 'Where did you hear that?' Pearl's
response was, 'I heard it through the grapevine.' My response was, 'Yeah, OK.'
That was it.'' He said he was "completely shocked'' when he later was
requested to attend a meeting with NCAA officials in Chicago and learned about
the tape. "I knew I had been set up,'' Thomas said.
In an exclusive interview with the Sun-Times "because I want to clear my name,'' Thomas claimed that Pearl had offered to "double any offer you get from any other school'' to sign with Iowa. Thomas insisted Illinois didn't many any illegal offers.
Thomas also claimed Pearl showed up in Amsterdam while the Simeon team was
participating in an international tournament. He said Pearl gave him $100, drove
him and three teammates around town in a rented car and paid for their lunch.
Pearl denied the allegation.

I don't expect there to be a sister story in the Urinal telling Pearl's side of the story, as much because I believe much of this story, and I doubt Pearl has a lot to say to counter the whole thing.

Here is the "historical" account of what transpired. Really a fascinating read.

Here is Pearl's memo to the NCAA. (hat tip for both to Jotsheet)

This Pearl story is threatening to become the "big story" of the week, getting play in the Sports Blogosphere (wonderful roundup from the Illini point of view here: "Bruce Pearl: Get ready rat because the Illini are comin' and even in the WaPo. The only interesting thing about the article is a quote from Dick Vitale, a man whom I respect a great deal.

Pearl, meantime, became the target of a backlash. ESPN's Dick Vitale told a
national television audience at the time that Pearl had committed "coaching
suicide" and the act of tape recording the conversation was "totally unethical."

That is a question I have been pondering all weekend, and it seems like everybody agrees with my stance; Bruce Pearl must be a basketball pariah. The man set up a recruit to incriminate a rival school that out recruited him. He was a snitch on the worst level, manufacturing crimes to take down his rivals. I agree with Dicky V, this is a super scintillating sensationall stupid and shady move. (Okay, so I paraphrased a bit, but come on! it's hoops baby!)

Jay Mariotti also got in on the Pearl story, with his usual long winded effort making it sound like Pearl's motives were to personally upset Jay Mariotti (is there a bigger ego in sports reporting?)

In a glorified airplane hangar between Champaign and Milwaukee, America's
No. 1 team has a chance to rub out a pariah.
If Pearl was blackballed in the profession, as Dick Vitale and others said
at the time, he has lingered nearby like a ghost. He toiled at Division II
Southern Indiana for nine years, but proved he could recruit and coach by
winning a national title in 1995. UWM, Weber's alma mater, took a chance on his
frenetic personality three years ago. He has produced three consecutive 20-win
seasons and two NCAA appearances. To date, he hasn't told his players about his
role in the Illinois controversy and how it may have detoured his career. "I
don't know if I've shared that story,'' Pearl told reporters, "because I want
them to play for their story.'' They'll be hearing it anyway.

More stories here from St. Louis (Bruce Weber is a UW-M alum, wow), SI blurbs it, ESPN will no doubt have a fuzzy filtered ten minute Spors Center segment by Thursday, and probably d oan entire outside the lines show on it as well. Here is their prelim article.

Loren Tate, a columnist at the Champaign News-Gazette for 39 years, was asked
what the reception will be like for Pearl in Chicago.
"The most horrible you've ever seen," Tate said. "It will be beyond your wildest imagination. The players don't care. The coaches don't care. But (the Illinois fans) are the ones who are still pissed. "You will never hear so many boos in your life. It's
going to get really personal. That's the ugly part of it."It sounds like
boos when Illinois fans yell "Bruuuuuuce" as coach Bruce Weber is introduced
before games. When the other Bruce is introduced Thursday night, those really
will be boos.It won't come as a shock to Pearl. He's already endured death
threats, hate mail and condemnation in some coaching corners. Some say he broke
the coaches' code, which stipulates that you don't drop a dime on a peer.

I would boo him too, and I want them to win. I want to like UW-M, but come on this guy is a sleaze ball.

I am constantly editing this as I find more, so bear with the herky jerky nature of it.

Here is a message board at Funny funny stuff.