That Catch-22 still torments Pearl’s ex-Vols assistants

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It’s no secret that Bruce Pearl’s ouster at Tennessee was the result of one big mess. Any college hoops fan (and a casual sports fan) knows about how Pearl lied to the NCAA, tried to cover it up, got his assistants involved, had more gaffes and it eventually cost Pearl and his coaches their jobs.

Those high-profile, well-paying jobs. Months later, they’re still adjusting to life without ‘em. But the worst part they all know it could have been avoided.

“It was a bad situation, but we should’ve never been in that situation,” ex-Vols assistant Steve Forbes said. “It was so stupid. It was all just so stupid.”

That’s from an excellent column by CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish, who spoke to Forbes and Jason Shay, two assistants who were forced to scramble for new gigs once everything went down in March. Both made low six figures. Now Forbes is pulling in $60,000 and Shay $20,000 and had their lives upended and moves away from Knoxville.

Pearl, meanwhile, got a $1 million buyout and now works a comfy job at a Knoxville-based grocer. He’s still in the $2.6 million mansion, but he may sell that to move to a lake house.

So why feel any sympathy for these guys? After all, they lied to save their asses, same as Pearl, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. Assistants are caught in a Catch-22 when it comes to their jobs. They rat on their boss and they can find a new line of work. From Parrish’s story:

When an NCAA investigator pulled the picture from a file and laid it in front of Forbes, he couldn’t sacrifice himself for the greater good because it wasn’t him, his recruit or his home in the picture. It was Pearl, Pearl’s recruit and Pearl’s home. So Forbes had two options — one of which was to identify the people in the picture and mention the cookout at Pearl’s home. But everybody knows what happens to men who roll on their bosses like that.

“You do that in this business and you’re done,” Forbes said. “Blackballed. You’re not loyal.”

“You’re selling cars,” Shay added.

Maybe that’s overstating it a bit. But given Pearl’s history, it’s not unreasonable to think personal conduct and loyalty matters to the guy — even when the truth would’ve been saved their jobs. It’s a Catch-22. Tell the truth and Pearl likely keeps his job, loses face and might be grateful enough to retain you. Cover for him and you take the chance you lose everything.

As Parrish points out, things could be worse. They could be unemployed. But it can’t be easy to think about how good they all had less than a year ago. And how their former boss still has it pretty gooda.

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