- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2011

KNOXVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Tennessee has fired Bruce Pearl after a season that saw the coach charged with unethical conduct for lying to NCAA investigators during a probe into recruiting, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

The person spoke with The Associated Press Monday on condition of anonymity because the university has not announced the firing.

“We have no comment at this time,” UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said Monday night at a Lady Vols basketball game. No other Tennessee officials returned messages seeking comment.

Associate head coach Tony Jones, who filled in while Pearl served a suspension earlier this season, thanked the fans on Twitter on Monday night.

“Sorry Vol Nation it had to end,” Jones wrote. “I love each and everyone of you to the bottom of my heart.”

In six seasons, Pearl, 51, led the Volunteers to their first No. 1 ranking in 2008 and first NCAA tournament regional finals appearance, missing out on a trip to the 2010 Final Four by a single point.

Pearl acknowledged in a tearful press conference on Sept. 10 that he had given investigators false information when asked about a cookout at his home attended by high school juniors. The NCAA has since charged the Tennessee basketball and football programs with a dozen violations.

After a 75-45 loss to Michigan on Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Pearl said that he planned to be accountable for the mistakes he had made but his “goal and desire is to be the basketball coach at Tennessee next year and for a long time.”

Tennessee docked his salary by $1.5 million over five years, banned him from off-campus recruiting for a year and terminated his contract in September. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive tacked on an eight-game suspension from conference play.

Athletics director Mike Hamilton and Cheek had voiced support for Pearl after he admitted lying, but last week Hamilton said that Pearl’s future would reviewed once the season ended.

Failing to notify Tennessee of another possible recruiting violation that occurred just four days after his tearful press conference may have ultimately caused Pearl to lose the support of his bosses.

Tennessee officials learned from the NCAA in December that Pearl would be charged with a violation of the NCAA’s “bump rule” after speaking with a high school junior on a recruiting trip to Georgia on Sept. 14.

Pearl, who had a 145-61 record, leaves the school as a popular coach. An unscientific online poll conducted by The Knoxville News Sentinel after Tennessee received its notice of allegations from the NCAA on Feb. 24 showed 70 percent of the 9,600 respondents still supported Pearl. Fans gathered Sunday in a rally to show support, and Knoxville businesses displayed messages supporting Pearl on Monday.

He promoted Tennessee in a way no other coach had before with antics like appearing at a Lady Vols basketball game with his bare chest painted orange. The fans responded with boosted attendance at Vols games, which prompted athletics officials to upgrade the school’s cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena and build a new basketball practice facility.

Pearl also contributed to the Knoxville community in a way his predecessors hadn’t. He led Tennessee’s annual Outlive campaign to raise money for cancer prevention programs and research and endowed a scholarship in the name of former Vol Dane Bradshaw.

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