By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Anchor/Reporter
KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Fans who support former UT men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl have been sounding off, even protesting his termination. But what do those who donate money to the athletics program think?
Knoxville Restaurateur Bo Connor has an office wall covered with UT memorabilia. The chief operating officer of Connor Concepts is a long-time donor to the athletic department and close friend of Bruce Pearl.
"I was literally physically sick about the whole deal," said Connor. "Bruce is not only probably the most dynamic basketball coach that we've ever had here and done so many things for the basketball program, but he was just all in for the community."
Still, Connor thinks the university made the right decision. "They were painted into a corner by the NCAA," he said. "I mean the NCAA is going to come down on UT so hard, especially if you have to show cause to keep him and we're painted into a corner where literally our program would be done almost like the death penalty for half a decade."
Knox County Commissioner and fellow donor R. Larry Smith agrees that Bruce Pearl left UT no choice.
"You have to do the right thing, and it's not hard to do," said Smith. "You do it in government. You do it in athletics. You do it in church. You do it in your everyday life. We want people, when you're making that kind of money, we want you to do the right thing."
Connor and Smith say what Pearl has done for the university can't be forgotten.
"It's called intensity and that's what we finally got a coach in here that had the right intensity with the players and the fans and everything," Smith explained. "That's what we're looking for and somebody that will have that intensity and somebody that we can trust to do the right think when nobody's looking."
Connor added, "We'll still be friends. I'll still be supporting him. I think he'll land another coaching job. He'll land on his feet, and I hope the other coaches will too because it's going to be tough for their families."
Both donors also say they will continue to support the university and the next basketball coach. "Bruce we love you," added Smith, "We wish this hadn't happened. Good luck to you in the future."
6 News spoke with two donors Tuesday who did not support the firing of Bruce Pearl, but both declined interviews and did not want to be identified.
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