AUBURN, AL -
New Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl might not be able to recruit players at Auburn until late August. But right now, he's busy recruiting just about everyone else, including getting students involved in rebuilding the program with whatever talents they have to offer.
So what other plans does he have for the tigers?
Our own Tom Annino caught up with Pearl to find out.
Q: What was your first day as Auburn men’s basketball coach like?
A: Well, I never dreamed I would get off of the plane and there would be 250 people standing there. I know I got a lot of Twitter followers from Auburn and people were talking to me about coming to be their coach. But I had no idea we would get that kind of reception. And for 5,000-plus or whatever it was at Auburn Arena, including Gus Malzahn, his wife, his daughter, Sonny Golloway, it was just spectacular. More than I could ever imagine.
Q: How important is that for you to build a program if the students are excited about you being here?
A: You’ve got to create a home court advantage. The student body is a huge, huge part of that. You can’t serve if you’re not asked. I’m asking the students to come out. We’re going to try and give them a product worth watching. We’re going to compete for championships at Auburn. I don’t know how soon. A lot is going to depend on how this group works and develops, along with what I can do in recruiting initially. But it’s going to happen. I think the student body has great confidence in Auburn, in Auburn as a university, and Auburn as an athletic program. I think that’s why they’re so excited. They’ve seen it happen before.
Q: People tell me all the time Auburn is a tough job, maybe the toughest in the SEC. Do you think there’s anything to that?
A: I don’t think it’s the toughest job. I don’t. I think it’s challenging because it’s been a while since Auburn has done it. The challenge of getting teams to want to come to Auburn Arena and play us, the scheduling will be very, very important. I’m going to take the show on the road. We’re going to have to go to places first, and be willing to play people on the road to be able to get them to come back to us. It’s a great, great challenge. I’m excited about bringing the level of SEC basketball up.
Q: There was a report out there you might be interested in playing games in Birmingham. Can you talk about that?
A: I think it would be great if either Alabama or UAB got with us and every year, maybe something the Tipoff Club could get involved in, some sort of a classic where we would be able to bring in a couple of teams every year. Some years, it could be teams from the OVC and some years it would be teams from the Big Ten. Then in return, we would go play at neutral sites. Could we bring Michigan or Michigan State in? Could we bring a couple of teams from California in? Then in turn, go out there and play in a neutral site situation in their state. I think we should play in Birmingham at least every other year in a neutral site game.
Q: Have you taken any time to reflect on the road you’ve traveled from Tennessee to this point, getting back in the head coaching game?
A: The only thing I’m going to spend time reflecting on is I’m on the road traveling right now. I’m driving from Auburn back up to Knoxville to pack up some more stuff and bring it back here. So I don’t have to reflect on it. I’m actually on it.
Q: What do you have to say to Auburn fans who may be skeptical because of the way things ended for you at Tennessee?
A: I hope to be judged by the body of work. I hope to be judged by 33 years in coaching. I tried to be accountable for the mistake that I made…Jay Jacobs sought me out, done his due diligence, felt comfortable that what happened was a mistake, not a character flaw. Hopefully, over a period of time, I’ll be able to prove he was correct.
Q: Do you see Auburn as a “destination job?”
A: It’s definitely a “destination job.” This is a not a job you hop, skip, and jump. This is not a place that you do that. Not in the SEC. Not at a place where they win championships in football and so many other sports. I’m moving my family