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.