Don’t Judge Bruce Pearl and Auburn, Not Yet



Much fanfare, excitement and whatnot followed Bruce Pearl when he signed up to become the head coach for the Auburn Tigers. And, I mean, why not? Pearl has had success every singe place he has coached, no matter the size, budget or expectations placed on him.

Between making Southern Indiana a Division II basketball staple, to bringing Milwaukee to two NCAA Tournament appearances (including one Sweet 16) in his four years there, all the way to making the Tennessee Volunteers matter on the national scene, it could be said Auburn got a steal of a lifetime by getting him.

Obviously, Pearl landed on The Plains for some interesting reasons. He was, infamously at this point, involved in a BBQ scandal. Yes, a BBQ scandal of epic proportions — so much so that, outside of Bruce Pearl himself, Aaron Craft was the marquee name known to be attached to the scandal.

And, well, I don’t know about you, but Aaron Craft is gosh slam Aaron Craft and anyone who likes Big Ten basketball will tell you that there ain’t no BBQ party like an Aaron Craft BBQ party because a…you get the gist.

The party violated NCAA rules, Pearl already had a track record of doing some iffy things (by NCAA standards), and he also happened to tell Craft to lie about the incident and did likewise himself while under investigation.

And, as we all know by now, it is the lie that will get you more in trouble with the NCAA than the incident itself.

After a short stint as a picture-box sports personality riding out his NCAA-mandated show-cause, Bruce Pearl became the Auburn Tigers’ head coach at the discounted rate of $2.2 million a year over six years, with each year having a $100,000 escalator attached to it.

Now we are here — “here” being a not-so-hot start for the Tigers in the Bruce Pearl era.

Despite the other fanfare that came with Pearl coming the program, such as former NCAA-leading scorer Antoine Mason transferring in from Niagara, the team isn’t off to the greatest of starts.

In fact, Auburn currently sits 9-6 (1-1 in SEC play), with its only win of real consequence coming against Xavier in double-overtime. So, naturally, there may be some disappointment in Bruce Pearl’s debut.

To that I say, poo-poo to you, Mr. McStupidpants.

It was great for Auburn to land Mason for this year. It helped make the Tigers a much more competitive team for this one season, as he gave the team another scoring option it desperately needed. But the 2014-15 season was never going to be the year for Auburn to make real headway in the SEC.

In actuality, this season was meant to give Pearl an opportunity to get his feet back on the college basketball ground and, more importantly, get back to recruiting some of the best players in the nation.

Any success the Tigers might end up having in Year 1 would just be the icing on an otherwise still baking cake.

So, guess what? Pearl already has commitments in the 2015 recruiting class, two of whom are ESPN Top 100 prospects. Two others are highly touted three-star recruits and the fifth is a JUCO talent who may be able to contribute right away.

That is far more important than how Auburn has done up to this point or how it will fare the rest of the way in the SEC. Moreover, playing in an SEC extremely top-sided but thin after one or two, a class of that level may help propel them to being a top-three or four SEC team by just next season — and that’s not hyperbole. Rather, it is acknowledging a reality that most people already know, that the SEC isn’t that deep or good of a basketball conference.

So, yeah, it may be easy now to point and laugh. To make bad jokes at the expense of year one of Bruce Pearl at Auburn. To even marvel at how poorly they sometimes play and how atrocious of a roster they might currently have (for what it is worth, it is honestly not bad and should get better as the year goes on).

However, I warn you, great programs are usually not built overnight. They tend to take many nights, sometimes full offseasons, with BBQs and all, albeit without Aaron Craft.

Regardless of bad jokes, hot takes and pancakes (pancakes?) college basketball is better with Bruce Pearl in it. Flaws and all.

Someone send him a bottle of Jim Ross’ best sauce in the mail. Label it recruiting juice. Because, with or without it, the landscape of the SEC is going to change over the next few seasons; might as well make it taste good or something.

See, even I am not above bad jokes.