AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has hired former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl to revive a struggling basketball program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in more than a decade.
The school announced the hiring on Tuesday of the charismatic coach, who remains under a show-cause penalty from the NCAA into August. Pearl had plenty of success on the court, taking Tennessee to the NCAA tournament in each of his six seasons before getting fired in March 2011 in the wake of an NCAA investigation.
NCAA spokeswoman Emily James said Auburn has 30 days to file a report to the Committee on Infractions either contesting or accepting the show-cause penalty barring Pearl from recruiting until Aug. 23.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said he believes Pearl “has learned from his mistake.” The coach was to be introduced at a news conference at Auburn Arena Tuesday night.
Auburn did not release terms of the deal with Pearl.
“I’m humbled and blessed to be back in the game that I love,” Pearl, who turned 54 on Tuesday, said in a statement. “I don’t know how long it will take, but it’s time to rebuild the Auburn basketball program, and bring it to a level of excellence so many of the other teams on campus enjoy.”
Pearl was greeted by 100-plus fans when he landed at the airport in Auburn. He jumped into a mosh pit of fans.
“I want this same reception when we come back with an SEC championship,” he told fans upon arrival.
Pearl replaces Tony Barbee, who was fired about two hours after the Tigers lost to South Carolina in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament. They went 18-50 in the SEC during Barbee’s four-year tenure, which coincided with the opening of the $87 million Auburn Arena.
Jacobs said with the move “we have raised the bar for Auburn basketball.” He addressed the off-the-court issues in an open letter to fans posted on the school’s Web site.
“After looking at the case and talking to Coach Pearl face to face, I am convinced without a doubt that he has learned from his mistake,” Jacobs wrote.
“I’ve thought about this a great deal, and obviously so has Coach Pearl. I believe people who are genuine and sincere deserve second chances. If I did not believe Coach Pearl’s apologies were sincere and heartfelt, I would not have even considered him.”
Pearl was cited for unethical conduct for lying to investigators in June 2010 about improperly hosting recruits at his home. He was placed under a three-year show-cause penalty
He also was found to have interfered with the NCAA’s investigation after he contacted a recruit’s father who had also been interviewed by investigators.
Two months after his initial interview, he met again with NCAA investigators to tell them he had misled them.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said he trusts that Auburn did “its due diligence throughout the hiring process.”
“I was disappointed in the actions of coach Pearl that led to his suspension and ultimate dismissal, but he will soon complete the requirements of his NCAA penalties,” Slive said. “ I have every expectation that he has learned his lesson and will run Auburn’s basketball program in accordance with these expectations.”
Auburn hired former NCAA director of enforcement David Didion as an associate athletic director for compliance in April 2013.
Pearl, who is 231-99 in Division I, has been working in private business in Knoxville, Tenn., and working as an ESPN analyst. He has led nine of his 10 Division I teams to the NCAA tournament, including three times in four seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and led Division II Southern Indiana to a national title in 1995.
Pearl’s teams have had winning records in all 19 of his seasons as a head coach.
A seven-time conference coach of the year during his career, Pearl led the Volunteers to the Sweet Sixteen four times and they made the Elite Eight in 2010.
He’s led major turnarounds before. Pearl inherited a Tennessee team that went 14-17 and lost its top two scorers, and took the Vols to a 22-8 record in his debut season, 2005-06.
Only North Carolina’s Roy Williams reached 300 career wins faster among NCAA coaches.
Auburn hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2003, the longest drought in the SEC. The Tigers’ average attendance last season was 5,823, 13th in the league.
The last seven Auburn coaches have left with losing marks in the league, dating back to the Joel Eaves era from 1949-63. Pearl takes over a team that went 14-16 and loses three starters, including leading scorer Chris Denson.