March 18, 2014
Auburn's Bruce Pearl walks the walk on his way to addressing the fans Tuesday night (Lauren Barnard photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- He was funny and engaging. He smiled and laughed. He was honest and humbled talking about his mistakes.
He seemed to be genuinely be having a good time.
Bruce Pearl made a favorable impression to cheering Auburn fans Tuesday night as he was officially introduced as the university's basketball coach. He mixed the good humor that has made him a fan and media favorite with talk of returning the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament.
The fans were cheering and enjoying themselves by then.
"This reception is beyond our wildest dreams and expectations," Pearl said.
Auburn announced Tuesday morning it had hired Pearl as Tony Barbee's replacement. He showed his enthusiasm when he arrived at Auburn University Regional Airport later in the day, and continued his goodwill by buying students pizzas before his formal introduction in Auburn Arena.
They were eating up Pearl's routine, anyway.
"We will play for championships at Auburn, there is no question in my mind," he said.
It was that easy for Pearl, even when he was joking about his five-year, $2.2 million-a-season contract.
"We have raised the bar for men's basketball, I can tell you that," said Athletics Director Jay Jacobs.
Pearl, the showman, didn't miss a beat.
"Jay talked about raising the bar in men’s basketball. Have you seen the contract I signed yet? When you see this number, he raised the bar in men’s basketball," Pearl joked. "I’m going to work every day to reward Jay and I appreciate that. I just want to thank Jay and Dr. Gogue for giving me a second chance. I’m grateful, truly humble and blessed to have this opportunity."
Basketball fans, and players, know Pearl, most recently as an ESPN basketball analyst, but before them a wildly successful basketball coach. He brings a 231-99 career record in 19 years to Auburn, including 18 post-season appearances, including six straight NCAA appearances at Tennessee.
Jacobs talked of Pearl's easy-to-see passion. Pearl talked about how Jacobs visited him at ESPN headquarters last Friday in one of his only job-searching missions. Jacobs said he offered the job to Pearl on Monday night.
"We are committed to winning championships here at Auburn and it starts right here tonight with men's basketball," Jacobs said. And in Pearl, Jacobs said, "I found a man that had passion, who had a vision, who is a family man, a man who wants to win and do it the right way and take Auburn basketball to a level that we haven't had in quite some time."
Pearl talked of winning, like he had done in the past. And he didn't hide from his troubles while at Tennessee that led to his dismissal, volunteering lessons he's learned.
"I let a lot of people down. I let my family down, I let my university down and I let down the people that believed in me, so I still walk around in pain," Pearl. "I have found this part of the country to be a part of the country that offers grace. But for the grace of God, I would not be standing here today as your next men’s basketball coach and I’m truly grateful."
Auburn fans were certainly forgiving.
"Auburn basketball has great history, tradition and is respected and recognized across the county," Pearl said. "We had our moments and had our times. When I saw that Coach Sonny Smith was coming to this press conference I was just grateful." Pearl also thanked former Auburn great Chuck Person for attending.
Auburn's returning players sat in the front row.
"The players won't hear me say, 'when we get our own players.' That's my players right there," he said.
Pearl's family listened to it all, as they had when Pearl had described the Auburn job to them last weekend.
"I said, 'Jay, you're going to get an answer from me, but I am going to need to go home and see my family and he said ‘Ok I will wait for you.' I wasn’t home more than five minutes before Brandy and the kids said, 'Would you just call him and sign that contract. We are going to Auburn.'"
Yeah, but the fans wanted to know if he will show up at other team's events in body paint, as he famously did at Tennessee.
"This used to be the Incredible Bulk," he smiled. "Chances are I am going to keep my clothes on most of the time.
"I will tell you this: You will see me on campus, you will see me in the classrooms."
"If all Jay wanted me to do was coach the basketball team, which is my priority, then he doesn’t have the right person. That was one of the most challenging things about my fall, is that we are going to win at basketball, but how we do it that is what we will do."
Pearl wrapped up his night with this:
"I have one other thing to say…. 'I'm baaaack!'"
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: