In March of 2014, Bruce Pearl was hired to rebuild a basketball program that hadn't made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003. An Auburn program that, since Cliff Ellis was fired, had made questionable coaching hires, and struggled to keep big time college basketball prospects in state to attend school at Auburn. Pearl wasn't hired in retaliation to what was going on in Tuscaloosa, the Tide have struggled over the same span since 2003. Jay Jacobs brought Pearl to Auburn to develop a culture, to restore pride to a program that thrived in the 80's, and for a short time, the late 90's. Auburn invested in the facilities and the student athletes themselves by improving dorms on campus, building a beautiful new wellness kitchen, and an incredible state of the art basketball facility. Still, one thing was missing.
Pearl made a pledge during his introduction as head coach to rebuild the Auburn basketball program, but even he didn't know how long it would take. That first season saw Auburn sell out home games consistently at the Auburn Arena for the first time in it's short history. During the 2015 SEC tourney, Pearl took an Auburn basketball team that had struggled with injuries and depth into Nashville and defeated Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and LSU on consecutive days, before losing to the eventual SEC Tournament Champions, the Kentucky Wildcats, in the semifinals. Then this past offseason, disaster hit the coaching staff when Chuck Person was indicted following an investigation by the FBI for allegedly paying the families of two current basketball players. I'll admit, I feared for the program. Nobody knew how deep this would run.
Pearl was able to motivate his team and block out that distraction to start the season 2-1 in the Charleston Classic, only losing to Temple in game two. As we sit here today, January 8th, that loss to Temple is the only red mark on Auburn's record. Game after game, week after week, what we've witnessed Bruce Pearl do is nothing short of incredible. He's made us do something we haven't done in a long time, believe. Pearl has put the SEC on notice, proudly pointing back at all of the media experts who picked Auburn to finish 4-14 in the SEC this year. He's done it through adversity within the program, he's done it without two of the biggest recruits in recent Auburn history, but most importantly, he's made his players and the Auburn family believe.
But I believe this runs even deeper. Bruce Pearl made a mistake that led to his firing at Tennessee, and he hasn't hidden the truth since stepping foot on Auburn's campus. That integrity, to me, is the mark of a true Auburn man. I believe he came here to do more than build a legacy at Auburn, I believe he came here to rebuild his life, and along the way, win a few basketball games. I also believe that, not only has he led by his faith and the Auburn creed, he's embraced it in a way that not even he knew was possible. That's what Auburn does to people, we're different down here. Pearl is one of us now, and it's clear that he understands that to be successful at Auburn, you have to put your legacy aside. At Auburn, family comes first, and Pearl has embraced that.
Earlier today, Auburn entered the AP poll for the first time in 15 years. This team is ranked No. 22, and Pearl has them believing. There's nothing more dangerous in sports than a team that believes.