Oct. 22, 2014
From behind the scenes, Bruce Pearl talks Auburn basketball at SEC Tipoff '15
By Charles Goldberg
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Everybody knows Bruce Pearl.
Every human person. The people you see behind the desk on TV know him. Their assistants know him. The assistants' assistants know him.
Bruce Pearl, Auburn basketball coach, seemed to remember every single one of him with a smile and his exuberance and kind words and funny words and, well, everything that makes Bruce Pearl Bruce Pearl.
His return to ESPN, or the SEC Network version of it, was met with enthusiasm Wednesday during Tipoff '15, an event for the media that brought all 14 conference coaches, and 28 of their players, to the network studios, and later to a media setting at a nearby hotel.
Pearl worked at ESPN between his gig as Tennessee's head coach and accepting the job as Auburn's head coach last March.
Media savvy, he needed little help navigating his way from studio to studio, and needed no help in telling Auburn's basketball story of looking forward, while, unprompted, telling the story of how he erred at Tennessee.
That's Bruce Pearl, a coach who is going to tell you how it is while exposing his soul in some kind of way.
So there goes Pearl, down the hall to tape a segment with a bunch of his fellow SEC coaches, and over to another studio to do another segment and on and on, to Internet writers and XM Radio and who knows what else.
He's smooth, a natural in front of the camera, just as he's been making countless appearances on the Auburn campus, and down many a road, selling Auburn basketball to fans and alumni and to people who may or not matter. They all matter to Pearl.
"I'm blessed to be in Auburn. I'm an Auburn man now," he tells the assembled media later.
Pearl is talking about how ESPN gave him a chance when he ran afoul of the NCAA at Tennessee, and he thanks Auburn for taking a chance again.
He says he had fun working at ESPN, but he wasn't like coaching better.
"It was frustrating when you couldn't make a difference," he said. "I loved what I did at ESPN; I loved the work. They treated me great. I tried to get better at what I was doing. But at the end of the broadcast, I didn't know whether I had won or lost. I hadn't really changed anybody's life like you can in coaching."
The bright side? "I never lost at ESPN." But Auburn came calling, he was willing to take his record of appearing in 18 post-season tournaments in 19 years on the line.
Everybody brought players to Charlotte. Auburn brought two potential headliners: Antoine Mason, the nation's leading returning scorer from his good work at Niagara last year; and KT Harrell, the SEC's leading returning scorer.
They made the rounds, too, doing interviews, drawing Auburn's mascot, or at least trying to draw Auburn's mascot, shooting some hoops during yet another interview.
Part of it was serious. Mason said Pearl is "the reason I came here. He's so passionate about the team."
And there were other parts, like when they had to fess up on the most embarrassing song on their iPods.
"It was not me who put it on my iPod," Mason protested in advance. "It was one of my friends."
"Call Me Maybe... It was not me."
Harrell said it was a Beyoncé song. "But Drake's on it!"
The players made the rounds without Pearl. Pearl was his own traveling show, drawing the biggest media crowd in the afternoon.
Pearl had a good answer about everything, even a sentimental one about his return to Tennessee this season to coach against the Vols.
"I had a couple of children graduate in that building," he said.
Pearl showed his feelings, again.
"I get pretty attached to different things. There were a lot of 5 o'clock-in-the-mornings walking into your office when nobody else is there, and a lot of times you're the last guy to leave the building, and you become attached to the trash barrel, you become attached to the hallway. I know it will be emotional because I loved that place and I cared about it so much," he said.
Did somebody say he knows his extended audience?
"Gus Malzahn is a genius in football. He's gifted. He loves basketball, too," he volunteered.
Name-dropper? He said it was easy at Auburn.
"When you put up some star power, I'll put up Charles Barkley and you can put up Michael Jordan, but then I'll raise you Bo Jackson and then Frank Thomas and Jason Dufner and then Tim Hudson. It's got star power. I think I can sell that," he said.
He was working it, after a rare night off.
"Every night we've had something and every night we will have something, and I love it," Pearl said. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: