Former Tennessee head basketball coach Bruce Pearl will be the new head coach at Auburn University. The fact that Coach Pearl already has a lot of orange in his closet isn’t the only factor that made him a logical hire for the Tigers. He’s a good hire because he is a proven winner.
In six seasons at Tennessee, he fashioned a 145-61 record with six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. His 2005 team advanced to the NCAA’s Sweet 16, but he has won everywhere he’s been. His overall coaching record is 462-145; that includes previous stops at Wisconsin-Green Bay and Division II Southern Indiana. Auburn needs Bruce Pearl, but Pearl also needs Auburn.
This summer, Coach Pearl will be coming off a “show cause” penalty placed on him by the NCAA when he lied to investigators about some minor recruiting violations. I said it then and I will say it now; if he had only told the truth, he would have been slapped on the wrist and suspended a game or two, but he would still be Tennessee’s head coach. Instead the University fired him and he has spent the last two seasons as an analyst for ESPN.
“I’m humbled and blessed to be back in the game that I love,” Pearl said in a statement released on Tuesday. “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.”
Basketball has never been that important at Auburn. Football is king on the plains, and will still be king no matter how well Tiger basketball does under Bruce Pearl. Auburn has been to a mere eight NCAA Tournaments, with five of them coming under the direction of Sonny Smith and Mack McCarthy. The Tiger’s last successful NCAA run came in 2003 under Cliff Ellis who was fired the next year. Pearl replaces Tony Barbee who was fired after posting a 49-75 record in four seasons.
When Coach Pearl came to Tennessee in 2005, the Vols had missed five straight NCAA Tournaments. He rebuilt quickly and made Tennessee basketball a relevant fixture in college basketball again. He even guided them to their first ever number one ranking in 2009. The chore is much tougher at Auburn however. The Tigers’ administration seems to be thrilled with the hiring of a big-time winner, though one with a bit of baggage. The money will be there and so will the support.
It will be interesting to see if Coach Pearl paints his body in orange and blue and goes shirtless as he did at Tennessee. He made an immediate hit with the Vols’ student body and remains one of the school‘s most popular coaches. Just a couple of weeks ago, there were petitions going around to hire Coach Pearl back at Tennessee. Coach Cuonzo Martin’s squad woke up just in time to win five of their last six games and make the NCAA Tournament, although the Vols must win a play-in game against Iowa Wednesday night, just to be the 11th seed in the Midwest region.
Bruce Pearl is a good fit for Auburn and vice-versa. After all, how many coaches would be able to make Auburn fans excited about something to do between football season and the start of spring practice?
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org