Bruce Pearl (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
There are many metrics to apply to a coaching hire and determine whether it is good or bad. One is fairly straightforward: Could you get anyone better? Auburn officially hired Bruce Pearl on Tuesday, and the official answer to that question is no. An irrelevant program that has 18 conference wins, total, in the last four years could not do better than a two-time SEC coach of the year, no matter how much baggage he has to check on the flight to Alabama.
"I'm humbled and blessed to be back in the game that I love," Pearl said in a statement announcing his hire. "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."
So Athletic Director Jay Jacobs moved swiftly to fire Tony Barbeee -- who didn't even make it to the flight home before he was relieved of duties following Tennessee's loss to Florida in the SEC tournament -- and just as quickly moved past Pearl's track record of rules violations to his track record of NCAA tournament bids and the hope that provides. Pearl has a show-cause penalty in effect until August as penalty for lying to the NCAA and other infractions from his time with the Volunteers. Part of it means he can evaluate talent but not recruit, unless Auburn appears before the NCAA infractions committee to argue that the penalties shouldn't follow its new coach to his new job.
But it's a hire with a built-in wait anyway. Auburn is a gut rehab after a 14-16 season in which it ranked 214th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Penalties or a soiled reputation following Pearl are far less significant than his winning history. He went to the NCAA tournament in eight out of 10 years at Milwaukee and Tennessee, but even in a lackluster basketball conference like the SEC, securing a bid next season would be a near-miracle. The roster sheds three of the top five scorers, including guard Chris Denson (19.1 points per game); KT Harrell (18.3 ppg) presumably returns for one more year. But consider these representative building blocks for the future: Three-star freshman point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who averaged 9.5 points in 30 games, and three-star shooting guard Dion Wade, who averaged 3.0 points in 10.9 minutes of action per night.
That isn't a foundation. That's the cement filler between the actual cornerstones.
To get the necessary talent, though, Pearl offers the complete package once the NCAA penalties expire. He has instant name recognition thanks to his time as a TV analyst, he has energy, he will hustle and he will be a salesman. "We have raised the bar for Auburn basketball, and I could not be more excited for our student-athletes and our future under Coach Pearl’s leadership," Jacobs said in a statement. "I know he agrees with me — it’s time to win."
That time might not be next season, or even the year after. But Auburn had to start somewhere, and it's not a bad thing to start with the best hire it could make.