On Wednesday night, following an opening-round loss in the SEC Tournament, Auburn fired coach Tony Barbee. In four years at the school, Barbee never finished over .500. His high-water mark for wins was 15 victories in the 2011-2012 season.
As the Tigers begin there search for a new coach, plenty of names have and will be batted about – championship-caliber individuals such as Larry Brown and Ben Howland, among them. However, as school officials do their due diligence, one persona stands high above the rest: Bruce Pearl.
Pearl has been out of the game for three seasons after being fired by Tennessee and serving a “show cause” penalty from the NCAA. He is a polarizing figure, but also a wildly successful coach.
On the downside, Pearl carries the stigma of a man more-or-less blacklisted from the NCAA. He is a boisterous personality who stirs the pot. As an Iowa assistant, after losing out on a recruit to Illinois, Pearl accused Illini assistant Jimmy Collins of offering improper benefits (Illinois was cleared of major violations, but an investigation did find some dirt within the program). Also, one of Auburn’s compliance directors was the lead investigator of Pearl’s Tennessee case.
On the plus side, Pearl wins. He was the sixth fastest coach in NCAA history to reach 400 victories. He took the Milwaukee Panthers to the Sweet Sixteen, Tennessee to the Elite Eight, and even won a DII championship with Southern Indiana.
Moreover, Pearl won in the SEC – currently a two-team league with Florida and Kentucky. When he took over the Volunteers, his team wasn’t even the school’s best basketball program. Pearl made men’s basketball at Tennessee relevant, and then some. He knows how to capture the attention of fans at a football-obsessed school.
While Pearl’s interaction with Aaron Craft at a family cookout was a recruiting violation, he was ultimately blackballed for lying to the NCAA – think Jim Tressel. The crime was bad, but the coverup was worse.
Should Auburn roll the dice on such a controversial figure? It depends which side of the fence you sit. Maybe the wounds of former coach Cliff Ellis, and Pearl’s turbulent past are still too fresh. Or maybe it’s time to rock the boat a little. Perhaps Pearl has learned from his time in purgatory, and his presence on ESPN has bolstered his recruiting power.
Time will tell, but what do you think? Should Auburn take a gamble and bring in a man who has the ability to sweat through a three-piece suit?