Jacobs makes it happen, hires Bruce Pearl at Auburn
Published on Wednesday, 3/19/14, at 2:10 a.m. Eastern.
By Brian Edwards
When Jay Jacobs returned to the airport at Auburn after hiring Gene Chizik in 2008, the AU Athletics Director was greeted at the airport by a dude screaming, “We want a winner, not a loser!! 5-19, 5-19, 5-19!!!”
Nearly six years later, it was a completely difference scene at the airport on The Plains when Jacobs delivered the best coach he could’ve possibly landed to rebuild an Auburn basketball program that has been stuck in the mud for 11 years.
Judging by the amount of fans that turned out at the airport and Pearl’s introduction at Auburn Arena, you would’ve thought Charles Barkley and Chuck Person had been granted another year of eligibility.
Less than a week ago, this space inaccurately informed readers that Bruce Pearl to Auburn wasn’t going to happen. I thought — and still do, by the way — that Pearl would have a lot of options. I felt he would find other jobs more attractive.
But Jacobs wasn’t messing around. He offered Pearl a six-year deal at $2.2 million per season and the former Tennessee coach couldn’t resist the first school that showed him the money.
Pearl enjoyed a spectacular six-year run at Tennessee, a school that hadn’t tasted an invite to the NCAA Tournament during Buzz Peterson’s disastrous four-year tenure preceding Pearl’s arrival in Knoxville. Pearl instantly turned UT around, leading the Vols to a No. 2 seed in his first year. They would go to six NCAAs on Pearl’s watch, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2010.
But then Pearl screwed up. He committed a minor violation in having a recruit (Ohio St.’s Aaron Craft) over to his home for a barbeque. When the NCAA questioned him about it, Pearl turned a minor mistake into a major one by lying. The result was an eight-game suspension from SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and a cut in his pay from UT. Former Vols AD Mike Hamilton eventually decided to fire Pearl following the 2011 campaign.
The NCAA sent him on a three-year hiatus. Since making the mistake, however, Pearl has owned it. He’s done and said everything right. He spent the last two years as an ESPN analyst and now, like he said to end his intro in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans, “I’m back!!”
Pearl might have gone a bit overboard with the “I’m back” remark, in addition to the comments about his salary, but that’s his style. He’s charismatic and creates enthusiasm, and that’s exactly what this cellar-dwelling program needs — in bunches! And that’s what Pearl will deliver.
Auburn hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003 when Marquis Daniels led it to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual champ Syracuse. With a new arena for Pearl to sell and a league that’s been way down in the three years without him, one would be wise not to bet against the Tigers being back in the Tournament as early as next year.
Jacobs needs to be given credit galore. The entire athletic program was in shambles 15 months ago following an unfathomable three-win football season that prompted Chizik’s dismissal. But in the last 10 weeks, Auburn has played for a national title in football and made a basketball hire that’s a grand slam.
Well done, Jay Jacobs.