What happens from this point on is merely a footnote to the latest in a long series of disappointments for the beleaguered Tennessee basketball program. It's also a severe setback for UT head coach Bruce Pearl, who is the most recent man hired to resurrect the Vols hardwood fortunes.
Affixing blame is a futile exercise since it doesn't change the circumstances. However assigning responsibility is a different matter. Tennessee lived up to the letter of the agreement. On the other hand, Tyler Smith didn't. The sticking point for the Giles County hoops star was apparently UT's coaching change, since nothing else has changed since he inked with the Vols last November.
Tyler's father Billy Smith has taken on the role of spokesman and there is suspicion, despite his denials, that he was influential in his son's change of heart. Billy Smith has stated there is no obligation to Tennessee, leading everyone to assume the obligation was to the former coach.
For someone taking on the mantle of supportive parent and non-prejudicial advisor, Billy Smith should have read the scholarship papers before allowing his son to sign them. If he had he might have noticed there was not a single mention of the names Buzz Peterson or Chuck Benson anywhere in the agreement. In other words, Tyler Smith's obligation was to UT.
Even without reading the letter of intent, Billy would have had to be in the biosphere for the last year not to realize Peterson's tenure at Tennessee was tenuous at best. Speculation on Peterson's status started in earnest after the Vols lost in the first round of the NIT to George Mason to end the 2003-2004 season, and continued through a mediocre 2004-2005 campaign that began with a weak showing in Hawaii, followed by a home defeat to UT Chattanooga, followed an embarrassing blowout in Thompson-Boling verses Vanderbilt. By that time few believed UT would qualify for post season play and Peterson's status
If, as reports indicate, Tyler wanted his release upon first meeting with Pearl at the Smith's home in Pulaski, it looks like a clear case of open door, closed mind. And this was before Pearl dismissed Benson in favor of UAB assistant Scott Edgar. Of course, Benson's absence from the meeting may have had something to do with Tyler's mindset.
Whatever the reason things looked bleak for Tennessee where Tyler Smith was concerned and the situation remained . However as recently as last weekend, Tyler Smith seemed to be having a change of heart, as he said he was leaning toward going to Tennessee. Three days later the split became all but official. The only remaining question is Smith's choice of prep schools.
Pearl is left with no options when it comes to replacing Smith next season and could be left a player short since there will be six open scholarships for 2006 with a limit of five scholarships that can be awarded in any given season. Ironically, Tyler Smith's scholarship could end up going to walk-on guard Juan Smith who was placed on scholarship by Peterson but remains on scholarship at Pearl's discretion. Or it could go to a late pickup for the Vols in the Class of 2005.
Tyler Smith is an excellent player who will be in demand next year and should go on to enjoy a productive career. Bruce Pearl is a proven coach who has a excellent opportunity to succeed at Tennessee where others have failed. Eventually, everyone involved may each see benefits from the decision to part ways.
But it won't be next season.