Bruce Pearl is a proven winner. In 20 seasons as a head coach he has guided his teams to the NCAA Tournament 17 times and the postseason 18 times. And when he's not winning basketball games, he's winning the hearts of a fan base badly wanting a winner.
In his first year at Auburn, Pearl turned a struggling program into a must-see commodity. Season tickets sold out as Auburn Arena was filled to 85.7 percent capacity over the course of 17 home games, drawing 133,033 total fans into Auburn Arena, the third-best total attendance in school history.
Pearl also turned Auburn into a success story off the court as all five seniors that he inherited graduated on time and the program put together a perfect APR score.
On the court Pearl's first club went 15-20 but won the hearts of the Auburn Family fast. The team started out a blistering 9-1 at home and capped off the season with a memorable four-day stay at the SEC Tournament, winning three games for the first time since 1985 and advancing to the tournament semi-finals.
Senior KT Harrell turned in an All-SEC performance throughout the season, finishing the year as the league's leading scorer (18.5 points per game), sixth in the SEC in field goal percentage (.464) and was the SEC leader in 3-point field goal percentage (.445/10th in NCAA) and 3-point field goals made per game (2.8/33rd in NCAA).
Pearl's impact is also continually felt in the community. When he isn't out buying lunch for students on campus or dropping into Auburn marketing classes, he can be found spreading the word of Auburn basketball at Auburn Alumni events throughout the Southeast. And if he isn't there, there is a good chance he is in the stands supporting one of the other Auburn programs.
Pearl and his wife, Brandy, also remain committed to giving back to those in Alabama as the inagural Bruce Pearl Fore The Children Golf Classic raised over $233,000 for Children's Harbor.
"Bruce Pearl is a great hire for Auburn," ESPN's Jay Bilas said when Pearl was hired on March 18, 2014. "He will bring an energy and enthusiasm to the program that will be contagious, and he's a truly outstanding coach. Pearl has the goods, and he can really sell them too."
Pearl's 20 years of coaching experience covers four stops. He began his head coaching career with a nine-year stay at Southern Indiana, taking the program to the NCAA Tournament each season, going 231-46 (.834) from 1992-2001. From there he made the move to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, taking the Panthers to the NIT once and the NCAA Tournament twice, including a 2005 Sweet 16 appearance. After compiling an 86-38 (.694) record at UW-Milwaukee, Tennessee tabbed him as its leader in 2005 and he responded by taking the program to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, two Sweet Sixteens (2007, 2008) and the 2010 Elite Eight, which was the most successful six-year run in Volunteers history.
During Pearl's stay at Tennessee, the Volunteers topped the 20-win mark five times and was the SEC's winningest program during his six seasons, winning the 2008 SEC regular season SEC Championship, the 2006, 2008 and 2009 SEC Eastern Division titles and earned the school's first-ever No. 1 national ranking. From 2006-11, Tennessee went 65-31 (.677) in league play, better than every team in the conference during that time period.
Pearl's preferred style of play, a high-scoring, pressure-type scheme, has proven to be very exciting and very successful throughout the years. His teams have led their conference in scoring 16 of the 20 years that he has been a head coach. His Tennessee squads were the SEC's scoring champion in four of his seasons on Rocky Top, averaging 77.4 points per game while allowing 70.5 ppg. At the Division I level, his teams have topped the 100-point mark 15 times, including a high of 124 in 2009 as well as 121 points in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. In his second year as coach at Southern Indiana the team averaged 101.7 ppg. Twice he has coached the league's leading scorer in UW-Milwaukee's Dylan Page in 2004 (20.9 ppg) and Tennessee's Chris Lofton in 2007 (20.8 ppg).
"(Pearl) has taken down a lot of high-flying teams as the coach at Tennessee," ESPN.com's Pat Forde wrote in Mach 2010. "Playing his Volunteers is hazardous to your ranking."
During Pearl's stay at Tennessee, he attracted outstanding players to Knoxville. Wayne Chism was Pearl's first marquee signee at Tennessee. The Volunteers went 104-38 during Chism's four-year career, and he walked off the court in 2010 as the school's all-time leader in games played and wins. Chism also appeared in more NCAA Tournament games and logged more wins in the "Big Dance" than any Vol in history.
But perhaps more important is the fact that Chism extended a trend that followed Pearl throughout his stay at Tennessee. Every player that played four years for Pearl at Tennessee earned their college degree.
Boasting a .674 winning percentage over 11 Division I seasons, Pearl has done it against some of the toughest schedules in America. At Auburn and Tennessee, he sought out non-conference matchups with the most prominent teams and players on the collegiate landscape.
During his stay at Tennessee the Volunteers defeated Kevin Durant and Texas, Derrick Rose and Memphis, Greg Monroe and Georgetown, Matt Bouldin and Gonzaga, Sherron Collins and Luke Aldrich of Kansas and Ohio State with National Player of the Year Evan Turner. That's in addition to logging SEC wins against future NBA standouts such as Ronnie Brewer, Glen Davis, Joakim Noah, Rajon Rondo and John Wall.
In Pearl's seven years coaching in the SEC, one at Auburn and six at Tennessee, his teams have averaged a phenomenal strength of schedule ranking of 8.1 in the nation by RealTimeRPI.com, including five top six rankings being No. 1 in 2007-08, No. 2 in 2010-11, No. 3 in 2008-09, No. 5 in 2006-07 and No. 6 in 2005-06. Auburn's strength of schedule last season was No. 21.
Pearl's record is 5-5 vs. top 5 teams, including No. 2 Tennessee's 66-62 win at No. 1 Memphis in 2008.
Playing such a difficult schedule led to an average year-end RPI of 17 as well as three top-five seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Twice Tennessee landed in the top 10 in the final national rankings, with a high of No. 5 after logging a school-record 31 wins in 2007-08.
Tennessee's on-court success never came at the expense of academics. Tennessee had 31 SEC Academic Honor Roll selections under Pearl and nine members of the 2006-07 squad earned SEC Academic Honor Roll recognition.
"You can't serve unless you are called upon."
That has been an oft-quoted Pearl mantra throughout his time at Tennessee and has been carried over to his early days at Auburn. An ambassador for the university, Pearl's selfless community service work and generous stewardship made him one of the most influential public figures in the state. He was given the "Spirit of Auburn" Award in the spring of 2015 and was named "Knoxvillian of the Year" by Knoxville Metro Pulse in 2008 and also received the prestigious "Knoxville Award" in 2010. The UT basketball program also earned the UT Men's Community Outreach Team Award twice in his six seasons.
Pearl realized a lifelong dream in the summer of 2008 when his country called upon him to serve as head coach of Maccabi USA's open men's basketball team at the 18th World Maccabiah Games in Israel. He led the American squad to the gold medal for just the third time in 24 years, toppling favored Israel in the title game.
The Maccabiah gold marked Pearl's 16th championship during his head coaching career. In 20 seasons at the collegiate level, his teams have made a remarkable 17 NCAA Tournament appearances and racked up 26 NCAA Tournament wins. Only four times in 20 years has a Pearl-coached team not led its conference in scoring, and his squads have finished either first or second in their respective leagues an astounding 14 times.
Pearl has garnered six National Coach of the Year awards, and his teams have set school records for wins at three different universities (29 at Southern Indiana in 1995, 26 at UW-Milwaukee in 2005 and 31 at Tennessee in 2008). His teams have also won at least 10 games in league play in nine out of his 11 seasons as a Division I head coach.
His NCAA Tournament resume is equally as impressive - as he is one of only seven active head coaches who has led his teams to 10 NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances. From 2007-2010, Tennessee stood alongside Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, UNC and Xavier as the only programs in America to reach the Sweet 16 three times.
While Pearl often exults that "it's all about the players," some of his most successful pupils direct the praise Pearl's way.
"When BP first got (to Tennessee), I was just a shooter," three-time All-America Chris Lofton said. "But by the time I left, he and his staff had made me into a scorer."
Current Indiana Pacers guard C.J. Watson is one of more than a dozen players Pearl and his staff have developed in NBA contributors.
"Coach Pearl gets all the credit for my success because he turned me into the player I've become," Watson said. "He was the one who got me to attack the basket and allowed me to play more aggressive."
During the Pearl era, Tennessee played more than 70 games on national television, and a Volunteer appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated four times. In addition, Tennessee was featured in an ESPN College GameDay matchup four straight seasons.
"Pearl has done a magnificent job of building confidence and belief in his players - and of selling his program to those closest to it - his own students and fans," Bilas said.
Pearl's coaching career began at his alma mater, Boston College, as a student assistant coach to the legendary Dr. Tom Davis. After 14 seasons seated to the right of Davis, the 32-year-old Pearl embarked on his own head coaching career. But Pearl's first break came during his undergraduate career at BC when Davis offered him a position of student assistant in 1978. In 1981, the Eagles won the Big East Conference championship and reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. The following season, BC advanced to the Elite Eight.
When Davis moved on to Stanford in 1982, Pearl joined his staff as an assistant coach and then, at the age of 23, was promoted to associate head coach for the Cardinal. While in Palo Alto, Calif., they ended a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons with a 19-12 overall record in 1983-84, laying the groundwork for a resurgence in Stanford basketball. During that time, they recruited four players who were drafted by the NBA, including Todd Lichti, who finished his career as Stanford's all-time leading scorer with 2,336 career points.
After four seasons on the West Coast, Pearl followed Davis to Iowa in 1986. Over the course of the next six seasons, the Hawkeyes received five NCAA Tournament berths while compiling a 129-63 overall record. In 1987, the Hawkeyes recorded a 30-5 mark and advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to UNLV. And in 1988, Pearl was recognized as one of the top Division I assistants in the country by Basketball Weekly while helping direct the Hawkeyes to the Sweet Sixteen.
His six seasons in Iowa City helped produce 11 NBA draft picks for the Hawkeyes, including Brad Lohaus, Kevin Gamble, B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble and Acie Earl.
"From the time I met him he was able to get the most out of me as a player," Lohaus said. "He understood my personality and knew how to motivate me. He believed in me when others did not.
"He still stays in touch, offering his friendship and advice."
These 14 seasons with Davis provided Pearl a foundation of basketball knowledge that enabled him to move on to a head coach position.
"I feel like I had a great mentor in Dr. Tom Davis," Pearl said. "If you're any good at anything, chances are you had somebody pretty good who taught you how to do it. I had the pleasure of being by his side for 14 years. He was a brilliant defensive strategist. He taught me how to press and how to run, but more than anything else, he taught me how to work with young people, how to be patient, how to be disciplined and how to get the most out of them, even more than they ever dreamed they could have."
Pearl's first head coaching opportunity came at Southern Indiana, a Division II school located in Evansville, Ind.
Inheriting a team that had won only 10 games the previous season, Pearl's first squad at USI posted a 22-7 record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. That first season was a precursor of things to come for the school. Over the next nine seasons, the Screaming Eagles posted a 231-46 (.834) record and won four Great Lakes Valley Conference championships.
They received NCAA Tournament bids in each of Pearl's nine seasons and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen six times. USI experienced unparalleled postseason success under Pearl's guidance. The Screaming Eagles won a national championship in 1995 and finished second in 1994. In nine postseason appearances, USI won 16 NCAA Tournament games.
After winning the national championship in 1995, Pearl was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division II Coach of the Year. Twice (1993 and 1994) he was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Coach of the Year, and in 2000, he garnered NABC Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year honors.
Late in the 2000 season, Pearl earned his 200th career win, making him the fastest coach in NCAA history to reach the 200-victory mark at one school. Needing just 240 games, Pearl easily broke the record of 250 that had been held by North Carolina State's Everett Case.
In Pearl's four years as head coach at UW-Milwaukee, the Panthers won a pair of Horizon League regular-season titles (2004 and 2005) and two Horizon League Tournament championships (2003 and 2005). They advanced to Division I postseason play for the first time in school history, making two NCAA Tournament appearances (2003 and 2005) and receiving an NIT bid (2004).
In 2005, Pearl led the Panthers to the most successful season in school history. In addition to winning regular season and conference tournament titles, UWM made its' first-ever appearance in the Sweet Sixteen.
Pearl's 51-13 (.797) record in Horizon League games gave him the best winning percentage of any coach in league history. He became the second-fastest coach to win 300 career games with a 73-56 win over Loyola Jan. 8, 2005.
A native of Boston, Mass., Pearl received his bachelor's degree in business administration from Boston College in 1982, graduating cum laude. Pearl has two daughters, Jacqui and Leah, and two sons, Steven and Michael. He is married to the former Brandy Miller of Sevierville, Tenn.