Commentary: Pearl, not Hamilton, is to blame
As Tennessee fans rally behind Bruce Pearl in the wake of his firing, they need to remember that it was he, not Mike Hamilton, who created the turmoil that led to his ouster.
Mike Hamilton's best hire ultimately became his biggest headache and led to one of his toughest decisions as Tennessee's athletic director.
Hamilton and UT's administrators decided Monday that the NCAA turmoil Bruce Pearl unleashed amounted to a fireable offense, and Tennessee ousted the most successful basketball coach in its history today.
But as fans rally behind Pearl and crucify Hamilton, they need to remember one thing:
Pearl caused this mess, not Hamilton.
Has the UT AD been perfect? Of course not. But he's responded firmly to the adversity thrown upon him after he was made aware of Pearl's illegal behavior.
He imposed harsh penalties upon Pearl in September. Why? Because he wanted to avoid severe NCAA punishment, but also because he didn't want to fire Pearl. He's done everything in his power to protect his head coach, publicly stating on several occasions that he fully supported his coach, despite his behavior.
But as conversations with the NCAA continued, Hamilton and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek became aware that keeping Pearl was going to bring a firestorm of punishment upon the UT basketball program. Thus, they made the agonizing decision to part ways with the man responsible for the program's regeneration.
Tennessee fans who are rallying behind Pearl and hating on Hamilton need to realize that UT saved the basketball program years of heartache today. Keeping Pearl would have been a slap in the face to the all-powerful NCAA. Would they have suspended Pearl? Yep. Postseason ban? Probably. Scholarship losses? You bet. After firing Pearl, the punishment of UT will likely be far less severe.
In addition, Pearl's success has made the Tennessee job very attractive to any number of young, talented prospective coaches. Thanks to Mike Hamilton's hire and Pearl's excellence, the Vols are poised to hire a coach who can continue Pearl's run of success.
Mike Hamilton's radio interview was a significant mistake. He should have stayed off the air waves and kept UT's deliberations as private as possible.
But that mistake is tiny in comparison with the blunder Pearl made by lying to the NCAA. And Tennessee fans need to remember that despite Pearl's on-court success, and despite his charisma, there is one thing that is bigger:
And Jimmy Cheek and Mike Hamilton were forced today to do the dirty work of keeping it intact.