By John Zenor
AP Sports Writer
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 spokeswoman Cassie Arner said athletic director Jay Jacobs would address the issue when Pearl is formally introduced Tuesday night.
“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.”
Auburn did not release terms of the deal with Pearl.
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.
“From the moment I met coach Pearl and heard his vision for our basketball program, it was clear he’s the right man at the right time for Auburn,” Jacobs said. “Coach Pearl is a proven winner who will bring energy and excitement to our program. 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. I know he agrees with me — it’s time to win.”
He 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.
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.