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Commentary: Now it makes sense

I spent a vast majority of a maddening Monday trying to figure out what I was missing.

UT-Knoxville chancellor Jimmy Cheek, former men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl and men's athletic director Mike Hamilton.

Bruce Pearl admitted he was fired by the University of Tennessee. Two of his assistant coaches said their good-byes to fans on Twitter. Video coordinator Houston Fancher, who coached Appalachian State for 13 years, confirmed he had taken interim head-coaching duties. Current Volunteers vented their frustrations to media and through social networks, and signed prep prospects began asking out of their national letters of intent.

And UT officials stayed publicly silent.

Huh? How? Why?

It didn’t make one bit of sense.

Now it makes sense. It seems like it makes sense, anyway.

A Monday night release from UT included statements from men’s athletics director Mike Hamilton and UT-Knoxville chancellor Jimmy Cheek, and they feature damning claims that seemingly left the institution little choice but to make a move. And now.

Pearl and his staff, who had no wiggle room, apparently wiggled.

In addition to the highly-publicized, alleged Sept. 14 “bump rule” recruiting violation off UT’s campus — four days after Pearl’s tearful, apologetic news conference admitting his initial NCAA woes — Hamilton’s statement claimed the men’s basketball staff allegedly committed an additional, undisclosed violation earlier this month.

This walk out of Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday was Bruce Pearl's last as Tennessee's basketball coach.

Hamilton’s statement also referenced “more recent non-NCAA-related incidents” by the men’s basketball staff.

I don’t know what that means.

I also don’t know the nature of that alleged violation earlier this month.

I also don’t know Pearl’s response to these allegations, and attempts to clarify them haven’t been successful to this point.

But I know none of it looks good, and Pearl’s only hope going forward was that everything looked good. Really, really good. Sunday afternoon nap good. Banana pudding good. Gandhi good.

This is firm, but don’t tell me it’s unfair: Until we see or hear clear evidence to the contrary, Pearl and his staff do not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

I’m not suggesting that this story is finished. For all we know, there is a perfectly good explanation for every bit of it.

What are the odds of that, though?

Slim? Slimmer? Slimmest?

I believe media must be fair, and all too often I don’t believe we’re fair enough to the people we cover. We, as an industry, should not have to put our feet in our mouths as much as we do. We’ve become black-and-white pundits in a world that largely operates in a gray area, and often times for good reason.

Good people make bad choices. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people. And until Bruce Pearl and his staff can fairly address these issues, I won’t close the book on this case.

But this smells bad.

Before reading UT’s most recent statements, I could have rationalized many of the things Bruce Pearl and his staff had done. College basketball is a dirty sport. Apologies to the naive, but it’s dirty. The closer you get to the people in this sport, the more stories you hear. And it sure sounds dirty. The lengths some coaches will go to secure recruiting signatures and keep athletes on the playing field is nauseating even to me, and I’m not easily nauseated. And that’s assuming only a small portion of the unproven stories I’ve heard about various college basketball programs are true.

So, no, before UT’s most recent statements, I wasn’t 100 percent convinced that UT had to part ways with its current basketball staff. Bruce Pearl lying about a barbecue with high school juniors and lying about the identity of an assistant coach’s wife in a photograph was more dumb than evil, in my opinion, and I’ve heard worse. Much, much worse. So, no, I wasn’t going to stand on a typewriter pulpit and preach that he was a bad man who had no place coaching college hoops.

But after reading UT’s most recent statements, I’m not sure UT had a choice. I’m pretty sure it didn’t.

How much more do we need to see? What else do we need to hear? Has this not already gone too far?

Are Bruce Pearl and his assistants bad people? Not necessarily.

But are they the right coaches to lead UT’s basketball program in the future? Probably not.

Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@247sports.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247

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