A Chicago sportscaster reported via Twitter that former Iowa assistant coach Bruce Pearl apologized to former Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins for a high-profile incident that ignited an all-out feud between the schools more than 20 years ago.
At the Final Four in New Orleans today, WBBM-TV sportscaster Ryan Baker sent the following tweets:
“Best Final Four moment EVER. Bruce Pearl walks up to Jimmy Collins & apologizes & says Deon Thomas was the victim. 23 years later”
“Deon Thomas joins us minutes later and has no idea about the peace treaty that just went down with Jimmy Collins & Bruce Pearl”
As most of you recall, in 1989 Pearl taped Thomas with the Chicago prep saying Collins and Illinois would provide him with improper benefits, including a Blazer, during the recruiting process. Pearl turned the tape over to NCAA officials, who launched an investigation. Illinois was found not guilty of accusations involving Thomas, but other violations were found. As a repeat offender, the Illini were banned from the postseason for one year.
The bad blood between the schools spilled on to the floor, other venues and on the courtroom. Former coaches Tom Davis and Lou Henson didn’t shake hands following games, and Thomas sued Pearl. Iowa fans jingled keys and chanted “Blazer” when Thomas played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Illinois’ vaunted “Orange Krush” fan section relentlessly jeered the Hawkeyes at Assembly Hall.
When Pearl and Collins were head coaches in the Horizon League, they did not exchange handshakes. Thomas ultimately became the Illini’s all-time leading scorer.
Pearl, who was fired from Tennessee last year for his own NCAA violations, returned to Iowa City in February to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Iowa’s 1986-87 Elite Eight squad. He said he would consider working in television and would be comfortable broadcasting a game from Champaign.
“Just ask the question: were they better off after than before?” Pearl said. “It’s a part of the process. I know there are probably a lot of fans in Illinois that are glad that I got what I got. That’s fine. I deserve what I got. I made a mistake. I said it then and I believe it now, it’s a part of the process you have to have.”
An even bigger question is will Iowa and Illinois fans forget that incident? The answer to that is a resounding hell no. Check out this Illinois message board