The former University of Tennessee coach, who has been working as a TV analyst for ABC/ESPN after being fired by the Vols as part of an NCAA infractions case, was announced as AU's 21st men's head basketball coach. He will be formally introduced as Auburn's head coach at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Auburn Arena. AU fans are invited to attend the event which happens to coincide with the coach's 54th birthday.
"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," Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said in making the announcement.
"Coach Pearl is a proven winner who will bring energy and excitement to our program," Jacobs said. "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."
In 19 seasons as a college head coach his teams won at least 20 games in all but one season. Auburn's last 20-win season was the 2008-09 team that Jeff Lebo led to a 24-12 record and the third round of the NIT.
"I'm humbled and blessed to be back in the game that I love," Pearl said. "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."
Pearl is greeted by fans at the Auburn airport on Tuesday before heading to campus to meet with players and be introduced to AU fans at Auburn Arena.
Auburn's last NCAA Tournament bid came in 2002-03 under Coach Cliff Ellis. That team posted a 22-12 record and advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the tournament, losing 79-78 to eventual national champion Syracuse.
A 1982 graduate of Boston College, Pearl's first head coaching job on the college level was at Southern Indiana, a team he led to nine NCAA Division II tournaments. His team was the national runnerup in 1994 and the national champion the following year. In nine seasons with the Screaming Eagles his record was 231-46.
In 2000-01 he made a move to Division I at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he led his team to one NIT berth and two NCAA Tournaments. After leading the Panthers to the Sweet 16 in 2004-06 with a 26-6 record, he moved to the University of Tennessee after posting an 86-38 record in Milwaukee.
Coaching the Volunteers his record was 145-61 with a 65-31 mark in SEC games. Each of his six UT teams made the NCAA Tournament with his 2009-10 squad having the most postseason success, posting a 28-9 record and advancing to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. Three of his Tennessee teams finished first in the SEC East, including the 2007-08 squad that posted a 31-5 mark and reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
Pearl has earned seven conference coach of the year awards and three national coach of the year honors. He has also coached six plaeyrs who won player of the year honors in their leagues.
The Auburn head coach position has been open since Wednesday night when Athletic Director Jay Jacobs fired Tony Barbee after the Tigers lost to South Carolina to finish the season with a 14-16 record. All four of Barbee's teams had losing records after he made the move to AU from UTEP.
Jacobs sent out this statement to AU donors on Tuesday about the decision to hire Pearl:
Dear Auburn Family,
When I made the decision to move our basketball program in a new direction, I pledged to find a coach who will lead a turnaround. I promised to hire the coach who will give our student-athletes a chance to succeed on the court and in the classroom.
We found our man in Coach Bruce Pearl. We needed a leader who will bring passion and energy to our program, and Coach Pearl fit the mold better than anyone.
We found a coach who agrees with me – it's time to win.
With this hire, the bar has been raised for Auburn basketball. Coach Pearl is a proven winner. He will work tirelessly to generate excitement for our program, and his track record says he will succeed.
As you no doubt know, Coach Pearl was removed from coaching for three years after an NCAA infractions case that occurred at his previous job.
After looking at the case and talking to Coach Pearl face to face, I am convinced without a doubt that he has learned from his mistake.
I've thought about this a great deal, and obviously so has Coach Pearl. I believe people who are genuine and sincere deserve second chances. If I did not believe Coach Pearl's apologies were sincere and heartfelt, I would not have even considered him.
I believe his apology was heartfelt and his remorse is real. I believe people deserve a chance for redemption when they admit their mistakes, and that is why I hired him.
This is a great day for Auburn. I believe you will enjoy getting to know Coach Pearl, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the future of Auburn basketball has never been brighter.
Thank you for your support.
God Bless and War Eagle,