Banned from the bench

Losing $1.5 million in salary over the next five years was tough for Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl but losing his seat on the Vol bench may have been even tougher.

Due to an eight-game SEC suspension imposed by league commissioner Mike Slive, Pearl watched from a Fayetteville hotel room, rather than courtside, as the Vols suffered a 68-65 loss to Arkansas on Saturday afternoon. The experience was, in a word, gut-wrenching.

"It's as hard as you could possibly imagine," Pearl said on the SEC teleconference earlier today. "It's harder than I ever dreamed it would be.

"When you prepare for an opponent, you're preparing your team and your staff but you're also preparing yourself to play the game ... anticipating how the game will play out and what adjustments need to be made, so that aspect of it is gone."

Because he misled NCAA investigators regarding recruiting phone calls and a barbecue for three committed junior recruits at his home, Pearl incurred a three-pronged penalty: 1 - loss of considerable pay, 2 - loss of game-day coaching activities and 3 - loss of on-the-road recruiting privileges. His aides also suffered salary and recruiting cutbacks. Pearl believes these penalties are quite sufficient, although the NCAA is mulling whether or not to impose further sanctions.

"These are all unprecedentedly serious, harsh penalties," he said.

The harshest of all, he suggests, is having to watch on television as his team tries to snap out of a skid that has seen the Vols lose five of their last eight games.

"This one here is tough," Pearl said. "It's tough personally, and it's tough for the team because, obviously, I've let the guys down. I'm responsible for the fact that I'm not there and can't help them during the course of the game. It's a very helpless feeling."

It's a feeling Pearl will experience twice this week. The Vols (10-5 overall, 0-1 SEC) host Florida (12-3, 1-0) Tuesday night at 9, then host Vanderbilt Saturday at noon. Both games are on ESPN, and Pearl will watch both telecasts from his home.

With the Big Orange struggling and the Knoxville area blanketed by snow, attendance could suffer. So, with school resuming Wednesday following the holiday break, Pearl is hoping the students will turn out in large numbers to support the reeling Vols. He also is hoping for a couple of much-needed wins, noting:

"We're excited about the opportunity to play two teams that are ahead of us in the SEC."

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