Don’t Forget about Bruce Pearl’s Former Tennessee Assistants

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 30th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Show-cause penalties are permanent stains on a coach’s resume. They don’t expressly prohibit coaches from moving on to a different program, but they do make it exceedingly hard for any such programs to even stomach the thought of hiring violators by (1) transferring that coach’s sanctions from his former job to any new position he may inherit, and (2) forcing the prospective new employer to stand in front of the NCAA’s infraction committee and explain its motives for making the hire. They must, in effect, “show cause” for hiring the equivalent of a modern-day coaching pariah. Basically, If you’re show-caused, don’t expect to re-enter the coaching profession until the penalty expires.

the carnage left in the wake of Pearl's NCAA bombshell, which diverges from his favorable post-scandal employment, is often overlooked (AP Photo).

the carnage left in the wake of Pearl’s NCAA bombshell, which diverges from his favorable post-scandal employment, is often overlooked (AP Photo).

For former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl – who was issued a three-year show-cause penalty for attempting to cover-up the barbeque he used to host then-high school junior Aaron Craft and members of his family – that expiration date comes in 2014, when he is widely expected to re-enter the coaching ranks after enjoying a multi-year stint with ESPN’s college basketball studio analysis team. Pearl wasn’t the only one penalized for his recruiting violations; three of his former assistants (Tony Jones, Steve Forbes, and Jason Shay) were also hit with one-year show-causes. Their comparatively low-profile status didn’t afford them the solace of a big-time TV job – a luxury Pearl, with his vibrant personality and witty commentary, was readily granted – which forced them to navigate the unforgiving coaching job market with one of the biggest black marks any job-seeking coach can carry. Pearl may have gotten the harshest punishment, but his dismissal landed him in a job (and, presumably, with a salary) most any fired Division I coach would jump at. His assistants weren’t quite so lucky. Pearl’s backup plan involved fame and fortune; his assistants’ fell into coaching purgatory. The comfortable and financially stable lives they once led were thrown into sharp distress.

Over the past two seasons, Shay and Forbes bade their time at Northwest Florida Junior College. The JuCo ranks are a long ways away from the comparatively bright lights of the SEC, and given how challenging it can often be for show-caused coaches to regain their footing with another high-major program, it was entirely possible Pearl’s embattled assistants might have never made it back up the coaching ladder. Shaw and Forbes were left twisting in the wind; Pearl had a cushy TV studio job, and will likely get another major conference offering once his show-cause wears off next season. Neither assistant will reach those heights any time soon, but they do appear to be progressing in the right direction. On Monday, Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com reported Shaw has accepted an assistant’s job at North Dakota, while Forbes agreed last week to join Gregg Marshall’s staff at Wichita State.

Relatively speaking, moving from an obscure junior college position to a Division I, NCAA Tournament-eligible conference is something like a coaching quantum leap. North Dakota may not be Tennessee, and the show-cause penalty will, fairly or no, blight both coach’s credentials and obscure what might otherwise be two totally qualified high major assistant coaching minds for the foreseeable future. But the ostracizing effect of one of the NCAA’s most dishonorable sanctions appears to be wearing off, and for two guys who couldn’t possibly have gotten a shorter end of Pearl’s recruiting violations stick, moving into a more desirable position – and officially reversing the negative momentum of Pearl’s fallout – counts as a definite win. Forbes and Shaw were lumped in with one of the ugliest recruiting scandal fallouts in recent memory, but both appear to have at least partially erased the stigma. Division I athletic directors aren’t completely discounting their prospects anymore – their reputation rebuilds are well on their way. Perhaps another major conference position is on the horizon.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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