Pearl Receives An Enthusiastic Reception

Coach Bruce Pearl

An excited, remorseful and energized coach talks about his new assignment with the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Part pep rally and part press conference on Tuesday night, new Auburn men's head basketball coach Bruce Pearl received an enthusiastic reception at Auburn Arena as around 2,000 Tiger fans showed up to welcome him to his new job.

Introduced by Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, who himself drew cheers from the fans pleased with the hiring choice, Pearl spoke for 22 minutes and made it clear that he is thrilled to be coaching again after being sidelined the past three seasons due to NCAA sanctions levied against him during his time as head coach at Tennessee.

Auburn signed the coach to a six-year deal with a base salary of $2.2 million per year. Jacobs said the hiring of a coach who is a proven winner at the SEC level is a sign the Tigers are very serious about having success in the sport. "We raised the bar for men's basketball, I can tell you that," Jacobs said.

The athletic director noted that from his meetings with Pearl that he sincerely believes the coach can overcome his previous mistakes and be a major asset to Auburn. To get the coach on board Auburn offered Pearl $700,000 more per year than it paid Tony Barbee, who made the move to Auburn from UTEP, but failed to produce a winning seasons in four years as head coach.

Opening his speech with "War Eagle," Pearl said, "That feels so good. Welcome to the Jungle! This has a chance to be an amazing home court advantage. One of the things I talked to our players about today was to be appreciative. We feel your love, we feel your support and we are going to represent you in a very, very significant way.

"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. 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.

"It's been a long three years being away for the game, and one of the things that I wanted to tell you as a coach and even as a father is when I made the mistakes that I made at Tennessee, 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.

Bruce Pearl speaks at his press conference.

"I have found this part of the country to be a part of the country that offers grace," Pearl said. "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. We've got a job to do and I think the first thing I want to focus on is the process of getting our men's basketball program to position that the rest of the university enjoys.

"We want to bring our men's basketball program up to the level that everyone is competing at and that's going to be a great challenge," he said. "I can promise you I can't do it alone. These players have told me that they're ready to have the bar raised themselves and they feel your support and together I think we have a chance to represent."

Pearl met with the Auburn players prior to his speech along with coaches from other sports at Auburn after arriving on camps early Tuesday afternoon.

Joining him was his family, including son Steven, who will be a member of his coaching staff along with Tony Jones, a long-time assistant on previous Pearl coaching staffs.

Jones will be Auburn's lone recruiter until two more assistants are hired. Steven Pearl's duties will be working with players on-campus. The terms of Bruce Pearl's probationary status with the NCAA prohibit him from recruiting on-campus or off campus until late August.

Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn attend the press conference for Pearl.

The coach said he wasn't daunted by the challenges he faces and noted he plans to make the Tigers a force in SEC hoops.

"Men's basketball in the SEC has not been what it needs to be lately," Pearl said. "The fact that we sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament as a major conference in basketball, something has got to be done. We're fixing to get Auburn into position where we are going to the NCAA Tournament. We are going to play fast, we are going to play press and we are not going to be fun to play against."

Pearl greeted students before the event after treating them to pizza, shaking hands and posing for photos. He then stayed after his press conference to talk to fans along with former players and others.

Pearl meets with a student on Tuesday night at Auburn Arena.

"This reception is beyond our wildest dreams and expectations," he said. "Auburn basketball has great history, tradition and is respected and recognized across the county. 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. Thank you, Coach Smith I'm honored you are here. I don't know how fast he is and I'm not sure he can shoot like he used to, but the rifleman looks like he can rebound the hell out of the ball right here, thank you Chuck Person for coming."

Chuck Person (left) and Sonny Smith were there to support Pearl on Tuesday night.

Smith led the Tigers to their deepest NCAA Tournament run, an Elite Eight finish, and Person is the all-time leading scorer in Auburn history.

"I think Bruce is a great hire for Auburn," Smith said. "He brings something to Auburn basketball that is greatly needed and that is promotion. He can promote himself and he can promote the program and he will do the other things to be successful. Another thing about him is that he always hires great assistants."

Pearl said he will be focused on getting to know the team's current players. "I think the key, first of all, is putting my arms around these student-athletes because they have gone through a lot. I watched them play this year, they went through a lot. To start the SEC season 0-6 a lot of teams with lesser character, lesser heart, less chemistry would have quit. You all wouldn't let that happen, and I can see why you all wouldn't let that happen. That's what I have to focus on them first and then just take my time."

The team's leading returning scorer, junior guard K.T. Harrell, said, "I am excited about having a new coach and it being Bruce Pearl. It is a blessing. He has got a way with words and he is passionate. The meeting he had with us made me feel like I wish the season started tomorrow so I am excited."

Pearl also made it clear that he is excited for the opportunity to be coaching at Auburn. He concluded his remarks by saying, "It felt so good I wanted to say it again--War Eagle!

"I have got one other thing I want to say," he added. "I'm baaack." Both of those remarks drew cheers along wants of "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce."

Bruce Pearl Notes: His 51-13 record at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Horizon League games gave him the best winning percentage (.797) by a coach in that conference's history...Pearl earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from hometown Boston College in 1982, graduating cum laude...His first coaching job was as a student assistant at Boston College for Dr. Tom Davis. When Davis moved to Stanford, Pearl was promoted to associate head coach at the age of 23. While on the Stanford staff that team ended a streak of 20 straight losing seasons. Pearl moved to the University of Iowa with Davis where the Hawkeyes made five NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons and produced 11 NBA draft choices...Pearl got his first head coaching assignment in 1992 at Division II?Southern Indiana. He improved the team from 10 wins to 22 in his first season and led the Screaming Eagles NCAA Tournament bid that year. He took the team to the NCAA Tournament in all nine of his seasons there. His record at Southern Indiana was 231-46 with four Great Lake Valley Conference Championships.

Pearl's first Division I head coaching job came in 2001 at UW-Milwaukee. In four seasons there his team won the league regular season title twice and the league tournament twice. Under Pearl the Panthers reached the NCAA Tournament twice and the NIT once. In 2005 UW-Milwaukee had the best season in school history, advancing to the Sweet 16...In his six seasons at Tennessee the Vols made the NCAA Tournament each year. Those teams posted a 145-61 overall mark and were 65-31 in SEC games...UT's 2009-10 reached the Elite Eight and two others advanced to the Sweet 16, including the 2007-08 team that finished 31-5.

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