Bruce Pearl to Auburn Sends Shock Waves Through SECPosted by David Changas on March 18th, 2014
Talk about hitting a grand slam. As first reported by ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman, Auburn hired former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl as its new head coach this morning. Pearl, who is still subject to a show-cause penalty until August and will not be able to have contact with recruits over the summer, inherits the reins of the program from Tony Barbee, who was fired last week after four seasons at the school. Needless to say, the hire is a major splash for a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003 and has essentially been an SEC also-ran throughout the tenures of Barbee and his predecessor, Jeff Lebo.
Pearl’s hiring has to be considered a surprise. Many thought Auburn was overreaching when there were indications that Pearl was going to be considered for the vacancy, as the former Milwaukee and Tennessee head coach figured to be a candidate for several higher-profile jobs. But Pearl obviously felt the challenge was the right one for him at this time. He led Milwaukee to two NCAA Tournament bids before landing his first major job at Tennessee in 2005, where he resurrected the Volunteer program by taking it to the Big Dance in each of his six seasons in Knoxville, including its only Elite Eight appearance in 2010. As evidenced by their reaction on Twitter and message boards, many Tennessee fans see the move as a punch in the gut. Dissatisfaction with Cuonzo Martin had led many to believe that it was possible Pearl would return to the school, and a petition for his rehire had garnered over 36,000 signatures among Volunteer fans earlier this year.
Although the challenge Pearl faced at Tennessee was tough, the one ahead of him at Auburn appears to be even more difficult. The Tigers have gone 144-168 in the past 10 seasons, with only one 2009 NIT appearance covering that span. The job has been widely considered undesirable, although the administration showed a commitment to the program when it built 9,121-seat Auburn Arena in 2010. That, along with other facilities upgrades, was enough for athletic director Jay Jacobs to lure Pearl to the Plains for the next stage of his career. The move also received the stamp of approval of Auburn compliance director Dave Didion, who, ironically enough, was the lead investigator in Pearl’s Tennessee case.
We have often lamented that lack of commitment SEC schools show to their basketball programs. Auburn clearly has stepped up in a big way and landed its best possible option. With so much mediocrity among SEC basketball programs right now, there is a clear opportunity to succeed immediately and Pearl will undoubtedly bring the Auburn program back to prominence. He’s a proven winner who has won everywhere he’s been, and it stands to reason he will be especially invigorated after having to sit on the sidelines for the past three seasons. While Tennessee fans may not agree, the hiring of Pearl is also great for the league’s overall profile — after seeing the coup that Jacobs was able to pull off, perhaps other SEC schools that have not shown they are serious about basketball will renew their commitment to the sport.