Tate: 'I'm sorry' isn't enough from Pearl

Tate: 'I'm sorry' isn't enough from Pearl

CHAMPAIGN — Just when you think Bruce Pearl has a conscience, you are proven wrong again.

My first inclination was to read with interest and withhold my personal reaction regarding the accidental meeting and apology delivered by Pearl to Jimmy Collins on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

This became news when Chicago sports anchor Ryan Baker, a manager for the 1989 Illini, tweeted of the event Saturday morning.

Just the mention of Bourbon Street on a Friday night gave rise to the possibility Pearl may not have been in total control of his faculties. And Collins was undoubtedly too shocked to do anything but accept the belated apology.

But Pearl didn't stop there. This was, as it always was, evil at work. First, let me relive the scenario.

Back in the Flyin' Illini days, when Nick Anderson and Kenny Battle were igniting a run to the Final Four, a youthful Pearl drew the assignment of recruiting lanky Simeon star Deon Thomas for Iowa. It soon became complicated and ugly. Pearl chased Thomas all the way to Amsterdam. And he made accusations that Collins offered $80,000 and a car to Thomas, those complaints being handled at the NCAA level by Pearl's former friend at Boston College, Rich Hilliard (director of enforcement).

The Pearl-Hilliard duo fired from the west. And from the northeast came accusations that Collins had cheated to get Notre Dame freshman LaPhonso Ellis ... coach Digger Phelps chiming in just days after rumors surfaced that Ellis might transfer to Illinois. It didn't take long before this two-pronged attack knocked Lou Henson's program into the ropes.

Talk is cheap

Back to Pearl: Talking to Knoxville's Mike Griffith for GoVolsXtra, Pearl clarified Sunday that he "wasn't trying to hurt Illinois" 23 years ago but he was "trying to right a wrong." In other words, Pearl turned in Collins "for putting Iowa at a recruiting disadvantage."

Here's the problem. In that distant day, Pearl wasn't trying to right a wrong. He was creating a wrong.

Deon's high school buddy, Renaldo Kyles, was working with Pearl to also attend Iowa, perhaps as a team manager. And it was Kyles, in conjunction with Pearl, who dreamed up the phony $80,000 and Chevy Blazer offer. Repeat: It wasn't Collins. It was Pearl, although the idea originated with Kyles as he sought an excuse why Thomas couldn't be budged away from Illinois.

Attorney Steve Beckett, who represented Thomas, traveled to Kansas City, where he transcribed a long list of case-related telephone conversations. The one on April 3, 1989, went as follows, beginning with talk about Illinois "fixing up" the living quarters of Deon's grandmother:

Kyles: "That's right, oh, and he (Collins) had to be serious because Deon say his grandmother didn't want to be living on the West Side no more. So ...

Pearl: "Yeah."

Kyles: "The coach (Collins) said that grandmother be moved and offered him $80,000 and, and ..."

Pearl: "How much?"

Kyles: "Eighty."

Pearl: "That's incredible."

And that conversation continued through more exaggerations.

Later, from Kyles: "They gave him a Blazer."

Pearl: "And a Blazer?"

Kyles: "Yeah."

It was during this time that Pearl sent a memo to head coach Tom Davis explaining that "if Illinois got in trouble with the NCAA," Thomas might yet come to Iowa.

Kyles actually traveled to and was feted in Iowa City, an open violation (he wasn't an athlete), on the weekend Thomas was supposed to make his official visit but declined. This was one of several quid pro quo benefits promised by Pearl with the expectation that, as they socialized in Chicago, Kyles would successfully influence his schoolmate.

And that's where it gets nasty because Pearl, secretly wire-taping more covert calls with equipment from the Iowa athletic department, influenced Thomas to sleepily acknowledge, "Yeah," when Pearl put the words ($80,000 and a Blazer) in his mouth. Later studies of the conversation concluded that a bored Thomas was barely responding and was agreeing with everything Pearl said in order to get off the telephone. Furthermore, it was called "common street practice" to joke about such things.

Damage was done

Everyone close to the Illini program knew the charge was off base, not only because Henson was so strict, but by looking at the living quarters and forms of transportation provided for two more talented Chicago products, Anderson and Marcus Liberty, on the UI campus. Both turned pro early to fulfill their monetary needs.

A long, debilitating investigation, during which Collins was prevented from recruiting on the road, ultimately cleared him of the Pearl charges. But it didn't end there. With accusations coming from two directions — Pearl and Phelps — the NCAA investigators believed they were being deceived and managed to uncover minor UI infractions. Then, as a clincher, the UI was (without warning) charged with lack of institutional control, whereby Henson was limited to two scholarships and the team was ruled ineligible for the 1991 NCAA tournament.

Illinois never had a chance. In a court case, virtually everyone would have been required to recuse himself. Pearl had a longtime relationship with Hilliard, dating to Boston College. NCAA enforcer Bob Minnix, who fell for the faulty Ellis charges at Notre Dame, was a former Notre Dame running back. The president of the NCAA was Dick Schultz, of all things a former Iowa basketball coach. And the NCAA's Chuck Smrt should have recused himself on general principles.

It was one of the great injustices ever heaped on a collegiate basketball program ... and mostly stemming from the "$80,000 and Blazer" falsehood hatched by Kyles-Pearl. Illinois became a national villain, particularly when Smrt, an Indiana grad who served as NCAA chief investigator, stated at the end of the long ordeal: "Just because nothing was found doesn't mean they weren't guilty."

'I prefer not to say anything'

Instead of hammering Illinois, the NCAA should have charged Iowa with violations. Pearl had multiple violations in Amsterdam. Deon's grandmother stated repeatedly that Iowa, and not Illinois, promised to improve her living arrangements. The gifts to Kyles were improper. So are false statements to the NCAA. And the covert recordings were illegal under Illinois law.

The Illini never fully recovered during the late Henson years. Collins' recruiting was restricted. The 1991 team finished third in the Big Ten but wasn't allowed to advance. Henson won just one NCAA game in the seven seasons after the 1989 Final Four run.

Henson is plenty bitter about the Pearl episode — as he should be — but, speaking from his New Mexico home Wednesday, said simply: "I prefer not to say anything."

Thomas sat out his freshman season at Illinois rather than attempt to play under that cloud. So, after all these years, why did Pearl make a semi-apology Friday, emphasizing that "he feels bad because Deon got hurt?"

Maybe Pearl's conscience got the best of him, combined with his getting religion after the NCAA sanctioned him for cheating and lying at Tennessee. He was fired March 21, 2011, after multiple findings of recruiting-related infractions.

Looking back, Pearl didn't get Thomas, but he succeeded in hurting a lot of people and putting a chill on Illini basketball in the early 1990s ... just when the UI was becoming the Top 10 program that Illini fans believe it should be.

Wash your hands, Jimmy. You let them get soiled.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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read the DI wrote on April 04, 2012 at 11:04 pm

What's unfortunate about all this is that there was a large group of boosters paying cash to recruits as far back as James Griffin. And during the late 1980s/early 90s, most of the UI players were driving Blazers, except Meents, who drove a 300ZX. It is hard to believe they could afford those vehicles.

Do I think Henson was involved in illegal recruiting methods? Nope. But were players getting improper benefits? Absolutely. And everyone on campus knew it.

tominator wrote on April 05, 2012 at 8:04 am

True as that might be, Loren's piece is right on. They found NOTHING but the story remains: Pearl was a "whistleblower" and the Illini were dirty.

And no re-examination is occurring despite recent events PROVING that Pearl is a lying scumbag. And dumb. I mean who lies to the NCAA about a photograph of their OWN HOUSE?

read the DI wrote on April 05, 2012 at 11:04 am

Can't argue with you there. But as an aside, I never did understand how the NCAA investigators couldn't manage to find players in Blazers. They were all over campus. Their incompetence probably explains why the whole system is a joke to begin with.

urbanaman wrote on April 05, 2012 at 4:04 pm



snowdog wrote on April 05, 2012 at 10:04 am

I was on campus in the timeframe you spoke of and what you say is absolutely false in regards to all the players driving Blazers.  

It seems that's your thing -- to make intentionally inflamatory comments like this in efforts to disparage the UI.  Seems like you are simply a Bob Woodward wannabe.  Except you just make things up.

read the DI wrote on April 05, 2012 at 11:04 am

Too bad it's not. My dad actually was one of the contributors. Spend some time at the Champaign Country Club -- it won't be hard to find the rest of the group. But so be it. It was a gazillion years ago, and there's no reason to get worked up over it now.

urbanaman wrote on April 05, 2012 at 10:04 am

On the money (pun intended), as usual DI. But I just don't know of any coach that can totally police his boosters. There are always at least a few who think they're "helping."

Havana's right as well. I remember the UI was on thin ice already when this whole thing blew up.

But all these years later, this is the extent of Pearl's contrition? This guy should have been lying prostrate on Jimmy's sidewalk years ago for at least a month with a flag in his butt that read, "I'm a lying douchebag, unfit to be so much as a ballboy."

The inarguable thing here is that Bruce Pearl is lower than whalesh*t in every way...

urbanaman wrote on April 05, 2012 at 11:04 am

Damn, the more I think about this...

I know, in the end, "forgive and forget" has to be our MO as a species or we end up in WW3, but I hope Jimmy wasn't taken aback so much that he shook this gooch's hand when he stuck it out. I imagine that would have to be like grabbin' a turd or something. Of course, I'm sure Jimmy's a better man than I...

I just want to kick someone in the nuts right now...

Anyone got his address?

Da Illini wrote on April 04, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Jimmy should have beat Pearl's punk ass, tied him up, taped a $100 note to his head, driven him to the South Side and dumped him out!!!

urbanaman wrote on April 05, 2012 at 11:04 am

hahahaha - I think I like your idea better than mine...

Jam wrote on April 05, 2012 at 6:04 am

The above post is nothing by innuendo.  Coach Henson is a man with impeccable integrity, and I believe if such shennanigans were going on he would have put a stop to it.  Most of the major programs in the midwest are at a advantage if Illinois is unable to get a good foothold in the Chicago area thus they were willing back in Henson's day to do whatever to keep Illinois "down".  This is something the new coach needs to watch out for. 

Green Shirt wrote on April 05, 2012 at 6:04 am

Loren,  I know you have declined to do so in the past, but you really should write a book about this whole affair. 

Bwp 5P wrote on April 05, 2012 at 7:04 am

When you look in the dictionary , under despicable Slime Ball.........there's a picture of Pearl!

What he, Digger and his other Buddy down south did to Lou and the program was just a travesty.

bluehavana wrote on April 05, 2012 at 8:04 am

Bruce Pearl has used up his allotment of equity and good breaks he deserves in life.  This apology couldn't be more shallow, for young and stupid didn't make him lie to NCAA investigators about Aaron Craft and other recruits while at Tennessee.

Two important side notes...

1) Jimmy Collins was not an Illinois guy, other than a very brief stint as a Chicago Bull during his playing days.  By developing relationships in the Chicago area, Illinois was getting major recruits out of Chicago.  For Illini fans wanting to claim we can't get Chicago recruits, this is simply not true.  However the "game" needed to be played, Illinois did it during the Henson and Self years.


2) The institutional control ruling was sent down because the U of I had prior NCAA violations. So while this shouldn't have happened, the Illini already had two strikes against it heading into this investigation.  Unfortunate, but true.

cslack365 wrote on April 05, 2012 at 11:04 am

I'm not originally from the Champaign area and wanted to know what were the violations that were founded during the Thomas/Pearl BS??

CecilColeman wrote on April 05, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Find a copy of the book "Undo Process: The NCAA's Injustice For All" written by Don Yaeger (writer for Sports Illistrated at the time) (Sangamore Publishing) in 1991.


It's all there.

PDOG wrote on April 05, 2012 at 1:04 pm

If my memory serves me right they were such things as allowing a recruit - Ervin Small maybe - to stay in a dorm with his buddies while on a recruiting trip - he was still in high school at the time; lending $10 or so to Deon Thomas for a pizza that Deon paid back and other minor things like that.

Bear8287 wrote on April 05, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Hmmm... I wonder where Tunacommander is and if he's still upset that Bruce Pearl wasn't considered as a candidate for Illinois' men's basketball coach...


DaisyJ wrote on April 05, 2012 at 2:04 pm

What is missing in all of this was why Deon never spoke up to clarify things. Where were the reporters getting that story. Never was it heard that from Deon that it clearly never happened.

Got to tell you, Deon made a bad situation much worse.

CecilColeman wrote on April 05, 2012 at 9:04 pm

"Read the D I" is lying through his teeth; if the players all had these luxury cars, why all the hoopla when Kendall Gill and Steve Bardo had their parents co sign loans for used cars at some dealership in Decatur (that furnished assistant coaches with cars)??

If you recall, the two players were suspended (for one day) by the NCAA before it realized that the charges of extra benefits (getting cars on a preferred basis from a donor) were false - a blatant case of racisim if the NCAA ever had one. Both Gill's and Bardo's parents were professional people and had no issues whatsoever preventing them from co signing such loans for their sons, no matter which dealership.  Used cars!! 

I'd be willing to bet - - just by what I've read - - that "Read the DI" is an impostor who spends his time and money supporting Indiana or Iowa.

After all these years, no one (NO ONE!!)  has come up with pictures of these cars, license plate or any other kind of vehicle registration.  And Kyles, now some sort of minister in Chicago, will not talk. Taylor Bell (when with the Sun Times) wrote about him several times.

I cannot help but wonder if LaPhonso Ellis ever apologized to Collins or Henson. If not, he stinks as badly as Pearl, Kyles and Phelps.

read the DI wrote on April 05, 2012 at 9:04 pm

I'm not going to get in a pissing contest over it.. Like I said, it was a gazillion years ago.


But seriously, go to the CCC sometime and ask around. Or are you not a member?

snowdog wrote on April 06, 2012 at 7:04 am

Maybe he isn't a member like your DADDY was.

I've spent plenty of time out there.  Nice course, short but fun to play and the greens are usually nice and fast.  The bad thing you have to put up with the pretentious d-bags that are members there.

read the DI wrote on April 06, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Oooooooookkkaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy, little girl. Anything else you want to get off your chest?

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