After more than a decade of mediocrity, the Auburn University men's basketball program took a big step forward Tuesday by hiring Bruce Pearl as head coach.
According to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com, Pearl will leave his post as an ESPN analyst in hopes of turning the Auburn basketball team around.
Not surprisingly, Pearl's goals are lofty:
I'm humbled and blessed to back in the game that I love. I don't know how long it will take, but it's time to rebuild the Auburn basketball program, and bring it to a level of excellence so many of the other teams on campus enjoy.
Mike Szvetitz of oanow.com reports that the deal is for six years, with a $2.2M annual salary.
ESPN.com's staff later provided a statement from Pearl discussing the position:
We will play for championships. We're fixing to get Auburn into that position where we'll be going to the NCAA tournament. ...
... Jay [Jacobs, athletic director] talked about raising the bar in men's basketball. Have you seen the contract I signed yet? When you see the number -- he raised the bar in men's basketball.
I'm just keeping it real, OK? ...
... I would not have gone this year had I not felt this was the right opportunity. I was prepared to not coach this year.
This was the scene that unfolded as Pearl exited the plane this afternoon to attend his first press conference:
Pearl and the fans had a moment together, jumping into a mosh pit:
Joel A. Erickson of the Birmingham News captured one of the highlights of Pearl's presser:
Pearl: "When you see the contract I signed, you can tell, (Jacobs) raised the bar in men's basketball"— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAEricksonAU) March 19, 2014
Few coaches in major college basketball have enjoyed as much consistent success as Pearl since 2003. After leading the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances, Pearl and the Tennessee Volunteers reached the tourney in every season from 2005-06 through 2010-11.
That included an Elite Eight showing in 2009-10, which is something that Auburn has accomplished just once in the history of its program.
If any coach is capable of ushering in a renaissance at Auburn, it is Pearl. According to Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, Pearl's arrival is a total game-changer:
Huge hire for Auburn in Bruce Pearl. Changes trajectory of the program.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 18, 2014
Auburn finished 12th in the SEC this season with a conference record of 6-12, so Pearl obviously has a lot of work to do when it comes to making the Tigers national contenders.
Per Goldberg, Auburn director of athletics Jay Jacobs has the utmost confidence in Pearl to lead the turnaround:
From the moment I met Coach Pearl and heard his vision for our basketball program, it was clear he's the right man at the right time for Auburn ... Coach Pearl is a proven winner who will bring energy and excitement to our program. We have raised the bar for Auburn basketball, and I could not be more excited for our student-athletes and our future under Coach Pearl's leadership. I know he agrees with me—it's time to win.
Pearl knows what it takes to win in the competitive SEC, so it is tough to argue with Auburn's choice. Add in the notion that Pearl likely has something to prove to his former team, and there is a lot to like about this hiring.
While taking this job is largely about making the Auburn basketball program competitive again, it is also about redemption for Pearl.
He was fired by Tennessee in 2011 for lying about recruiting violations, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, so he has to prove that he can win and play by the rules in the process. Goodman adds Pearl was "given a three-year show cause by the NCAA. The show-cause expires in August and will not allow him to have contact with potential recruits this summer. Pearl, however, will be allowed to evaluate recruits in the all-important July recruiting period."
Pearl isn't a magician, so he needs to be afforded ample time to bring in players of his own. Once Pearl establishes Auburn as his team, however, an ascent is almost inevitable.
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