By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Bruce Pearl can tell you everything about Auburn's next opponent. What defenses they run. How they attack the press. Their inbounds plays.
But if you ask Pearl, who earned the 500th win of his college basketball career Wednesday in Auburn's 78-74 victory over LSU, to rewind his head coaching career back to win No. 1, that basketball computer in his brain suddenly runs low on storage.
"I don't (remember)," Pearl says. "Couldn't even tell you who it was against."
For the record, Pearl recorded his first victory in 1992 in Southern Indiana's 116-79 win over Indiana Tech. He is the 22nd fastest coach to get to 500 wins, reaching the milestone in his 691st game.
"For me, it's not about the wins or about the number of games, or about the percentages, it's all about the people, and it's about my family," Pearl says. "It's about my family accepting less of me so that I could serve in this capacity. That's what it's all about."
One of only three coaches in the SEC with 500 wins, along with Kentucky's John Calipari and Tennessee's Rick Barnes, Pearl has averaged 23 wins per year in his 22 seasons as a head coach.
"It's all about coaches and players and administrations and fan bases," Pearl says. "It's about every player you ever coached and recruited and graduated and put up with you. You have to put up with me, and my demands, my temper and my expectations.
"For every coach, who just like the players, had to deal with me and worked with me and challenged me, learned from me, become a part of my family. Every administration that hired me and gave me the resources to compete and put me in a position to have this ministry of coaching."
Auburn Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs hired Pearl three years ago, hoping Pearl could do for the Tigers what he did at Southern Indiana, Milwaukee and Tennessee: win big.
"I'm so proud of Coach Pearl for becoming only the third coach in the SEC to reach 500 wins," Jacobs said.
"This is an incredible milestone. While wins like tonight's momentous game are easy to measure, I'm most proud of the many things Coach Pearl does for our program, his players and our community that can't be measured."
Jacobs said it's important to remember all Pearl has done to support the campus and community.
"His impact reaches far beyond the basketball court," he said. "Coach Pearl has made lasting contributions to the game he loves, and he makes a difference in the lives of others every day. He is a great Auburn man."
Pearl gave credit to all of the athletics directors who gave him a chance.
"They're all special, because they believed in me and supported me and helped me survive the profession and the industry, and in many cases really do well," he says. "I'm just grateful."
Pearl views his position as much more than an instructor of skills and strategy.
"God wants us to, if you believe in your father God, everybody's job is to be some sort of a light, and share that with others. To be in a position as a teacher and a coach and a leader, I get afforded that opportunity. I take that responsibility really seriously. When we're successful, it accrues tremendous rewards, and when we fail, either by our own doing or by circumstances, it impacts a lot of people."
Pearl hopes to lead Auburn back to the postseason for the first time since an NIT appearance in 2009, with the eventual goal of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
"Just blessed to be at Auburn and go to work every day trying to reward (Auburn) for letting me be their coach," he says.
Spend some time around the personable Pearl, and you see why details of a game played a quarter-century ago have long since faded. For him, it's always been more about the players.
"The families of all of those players, parents who gave their sons to me and my staff and said, 'Here's the ball. I'm passing it all. I'm giving it to you now.' Their most cherished asset. This is their greatest treasure, is their child. And they say, 'Okay, we're going to trust that you're going to help him become the man, or the student-athlete, or the player we hope he can be. That's just what it's about. It's not about the game. It's not about the wins. It just keeps going back to people," Pearl says.
"The number 500 is small when you add up all of the people."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer