Auburn Hiring Bruce Pearl Would Be One of Greatest Coaching Outkicks Ever
UPDATE: Auburn has hired Bruce Pearl.
Auburn AD Jay Jacobs fired basketball coach Tony Barbee last night and speculation immediately centered on the possibility of Bruce Pearl to Auburn. As Kevin Scarbinsky at the Birmingham News notes, Auburn currently employs two top officials from the NCAA, including the lead investigator on Pearl's case. If that former NCAA investigator is okay with Auburn hiring Pearl, how could anyone have an issue with it at all? He knows the entirety of the case better than anyone in the country.
If Auburn can get Pearl, it would be a coaching outkick of epic proportions. Because let's be honest, where does Auburn rank right now among the best basketball jobs in the conference? Pearl himself told me recently that the top six jobs in the SEC were 1. Kentucky 2. Tennessee 3. Florida 4. Arkansas 5. Vanderbilt and 6. Missouri. I agree with those six -- we can debate the order, although I do agree that Tennessee is the second best basketball job in the conference. Look at the facilities and fan support at UT. (The Vols are top five in basketball attendance. Hell, they even drew big crowds when the program was awful. Florida doesn't sell out the O-Dome even with the number one team in the country). Not to mention the recruiting base is very solid. Unlike in football where everyone cares, you can be a top basketball job in the SEC just by your fans caring.
So how would I rank the rest of the SEC basketball jobs?
While upon first blush it makes no sense that Auburn, the worst job in the SEC, could snag Bruce Pearl, look at how weak the SEC presently is. The right coach can make a program soar up these rankings. Pearl would immediately be the third best coach in the SEC behind Florida's Billy Donovan and Kentucky's John Calipari. (And you can make an argument, which I would, that Pearl is a better coach than Cal.) Remember that Pearl had tremendous success recruiting the city of Atlanta. And Auburn's just 108 miles from Atlanta. If Pearl could reopen that pipeline and snag a few players a year from Atlanta, he'd have the Tigers back in the NCAA tournament in a hurry.
Plus, the expectations are so low at Auburn, it wouldn't take much success to get the program buzzing and stamp Pearl as a success, which could open up another job. Auburn hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003, the entire program has only been eight times. Pearl took Tennessee to six straight tourneys by himself. If he got Auburn to the NCAA tournament, which he would, it would be seen as a tremendous achievement. Fans would buy in because Pearl's the ultimate salesman. He could fill up Auburn's 9600 seat arena just by dint of showmanship.
It would be a hell of a hire for Jay Jacobs.
Of course, people would immediately say that Pearl was headed to Auburn for just a short stay, but so what? You take that risk if you're Auburn basketball and have a chance to Outkick your program hire by this magnitude.
Yep, programs can outkick their coaching coverage, just like men and women can.
So where would Auburn hiring Pearl rank in all-time coaching outkicks?
Here's my top ten coaching outkicks of all time:
1. Steve Spurrier to South Carolina
It's been a while now, but do you remember the reaction when Spurrier took the South Carolina job? People were in shock. South Carolina, had been to 11 bowl games in its program history when Spurrier was hired to take over. Spurrier has been to eight bowl games, and now he's posted three straight 11 win seasons. How moribund was the Gamecock program when Spurrier took over?
South Carolina hadn't ever won a bowl game in history until 1995.
Think about how crazy that stat is.
Spurrier's won four bowl games, that's more than every other coach combined has won in the history of South Carolina football.
So, yeah, God smiled on the 'Cocks when Spurrier, the second greatest coach in the history of the SEC, came to Columbia.
Gene Bartow followed John Wooden at UCLA, won back-to-back Pac 8 titles, came in third in the NCAA tournament -- they played a third place game then -- and took the Bruins to the Sweet 16 in his second year as head coach.
And then he left UCLA to start a brand-new basketball program at UAB.
Yes, this really happened.
By his third season at UAB, he had the team in the Elite 8.
But can you imagine the reaction today if something like this happened?
3. Bobby Knight to Texas Tech
I know Bobby Knight arrived in Lubbock with baggage, but we're talking about Bobby Freaking Knight in Lubbock. Knight only had 662 wins and three NCAA titles at Indiana.
In four of his six full seasons, Knight took the Red Raiders to the NCAA Tournament, an impressive performance at Texas Tech.
Put it this way, do you remember where you were when you heard Bobby Knight was headed to Texas Tech.
You didn't believe it, right?
That's the perfect sign of a coaching outkick.
4. Bruce Pearl to Auburn
Given the fact that Pearl's only 53, he's got a solid decade to coach, potentially more.
What if Auburn kept him for a decade? I think he'd go to the NCAA tourney at least five times. And that might be incredibly conservative.
The biggest risk of Pearl to Auburn is that he just doesn't stay very long. That's much better than the typical Auburn basketball coaching risk, which is that your coach sucks.
5. Larry Brown to SMU
He's got an NCAA and NBA title, but he's over seventy. Otherwise, this would be number two behind Steve Spurrier in the greatest Outkick coaching hires of all-time.
SMU employs the only coach in the history of basketball to win an NCAA and NBA title?
SMU hadn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1993. The program had only been four times since 1967.
Next thing you know they have one of the top basketball coaches in America and he's got them primed for the NCAA tournament.
Makes total sense.
6. Bobby Petrino to Western Kentucky
From the edge of the BCS title race at Arkansas to coaching football in Bowling Green, Kentucky in less than two years.
I know, I know, he was only there for one year, but what was your reaction when you heard that Western Kentucky was hiring Bobby Petrino?
Yeah, thought so.
7. Chris Petersen to Washington
Washington's a good job, but when Steve Sarkisian left for USC, did you really think that the Huskies could finally pry Petersen, the most successful coach of his generation on a win-loss basis, to Washington?
I sure as hell didn't.
How often does your coach bolt for another job and you immediately snag a better coach? That's a pretty impressive Outkick.
8. Steve Fisher to San Diego State
Fisher won a national title at Michigan and then got caught in an NCAA scandal at Michigan.
I don't care about NCAA scandals. They're like speeding tickets.
What I care about is that Steve Fisher has now been at San Diego State for 15 seasons, He's taken the Aztecs to seven NCAA tournament appearances during this time. You know how many NCAA tourney appearances San Diego State had in program history before Fisher?
9. Lou Holtz to South Carolina
Yes, South Carolina is on here twice.
That's because South Carolina football was that awful.
And they hired back-to-back national title winning coaches.
Has any other program ever hired back-to-back national title winning coaches to take over a job? I doubt it.
10. Howard Schnellenberger to Louisville
Schnellenberger won the national title at Miami in 1983.
Then after an ill-fated departure for the USFL, he took over the Louisville Cardinals, a team that had been to two bowl games in its program history. Just once had the program ever finished ranked in the top 25.
Then, voila, they hired a national title winning coach.