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'Blessed to be your coach. War Eagle!'
Jan. 22, 2016

By Jeff Shearer Senior Writer

He's handed out pre-game pizzas in frigid temperatures. He delivered donuts to students at midnight in the library during finals week. Even took a turn in the dunk tank to support a fraternity's philanthropy.

So it wasn't a surprise Thursday to see Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl buying lunch for a hundred students at Chick-fil-A.

"I just want to say, "Thank you,'" Pearl told the students. "Because we have begun to develop the best home-court advantage in all of college basketball."

A pep talk between waffle fries.

"We are not a great team, but you guys make us a better team. You guys do. And we just want to say, "Thanks.' So God bless you, enjoy lunch, and yes, I really do have my credit card. And I really am paying. We're grateful. Blessed to be your coach. War Eagle!"

Not only does the student support benefit the current Tigers, it could help attract future ones.

"We've won seven games at home. We've only won one on the road. We're only playing seven guys. We're banged up, and yet the crowd inspires us," he said. "And as a coach, I love coaching in that environment. I can't imagine as a recruit having the opportunity to play in that environment."

A day after his lunchtime generosity, Pearl was still making his pitch.

"I've been in this game for thirty-something years. There's not a building in the country that's louder than that or more engaged, and it's only going to get better," he said.

"As I look at how we recruit to Auburn; we recruit to the history. Sonny Smith and Cliff Ellis and Charles Barkley and Chuck Person. We recruit to the quality education. It's better than most, and we're proud of that, particularly of the public institutions. We recruit to the Plains, and Auburn family, the character issues of what this place can do for you and how it can change you.

"I think we just found something else to recruit to, and that is, `You can't go everywhere and get that environment. You just can't.' It doesn't exist everywhere. Because a lot of kids go to a lot of places and the students aren't as engaged. They can't be bothered. Our students are lined up across the street, down the road, around the football stadium just to get in. It's pretty special. And I'm grateful."

With so many entertainment options available for students and fans, Pearl's outreach efforts are a sound business practice.

"You can look at it like everybody in that building is my customer, so why shouldn't you treat your customers the way they would want to be treated, especially if the product isn't perfect?" he asked. "Our product is good, getting better, but it's not where we want it to be."

But Pearl is motivated by more than marketing.

"I'm on staff here. Whether you're on faculty or staff, our job is to serve those students, first and foremost. There's a lot of other places those students can go. And some of them aren't as good and wholesome as being in that building having fun and building these kind of memories," he said.

"This is good, healthy, wholesome all-American fun, and they're lining up to do it," Pearl said. "But you've got to provide them with something that's worth watching. So I look at it as more of my responsibility than it is any kind of a marketing plan."



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