(WMC-TV) - In a controversial move, the long-suffering Auburn Tigers just put themselves on the map in the world of SEC basketball by hiring former Tennessee Volunteers basketball coach Bruce Pearl. Auburn hired a man best remembered for being painted in orange, or being caught red-handed -- depending who you ask.
Bruce Pearl brought success to the Volunteers program they had not seen in nearly 30 years. Tennessee made the NCAA Tournament in all six seasons under Pearl. Those six appearances reflect nearly a third of all NCAA trips in the Vols' history. Pearl led the Vols to two Sweet Sixteens in 2007 and 2008, respectively, and an Elite Eight in 2010. The Elite Eight trip is the farthest Tennessee has been in the tournament in school history. When you add in the Sweet Sixteen trips, Pearl represents 60 percent of the school's first week success. He accomplished all of that in just six seasons.
But there is another side to Pearl, the side that is not too friendly with NCAA rules.
Pearl was suspended, then later fired by Tennessee for hosting three recruits at a cookout when someone showed the NCAA a picture of Pearl and current Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft on Craft's unofficial visit. Craft was not allowed to be at the cookout. Pearl knew it, and lied about it. He then told Craft's father to lie to the NCAA.
While lying about a barbecue might not seem like the worst crime, it caused the NCAA to suspend Pearl with a three-year "show-cause" penalty, meaning he would not be allowed to contact recruits if an NCAA school hired him in that three-year period. Pearl's penalty doesn't expire until August 23, 2014. That means he has five months as Auburn's head coach without being allowed to do the most important aspect in program-building, but for a school who hasn't seen an NCAA Tournament trip since 2003, it may be worth it.
Pearl's violation was not the first time he made news when it came to NCAA violations. In 1989, while an assistant for Dr. Tom Davis at Iowa, Pearl secretly recorded a conversation with top Illinois recruit Deon Thomas, alleging the Illini of paying him $80,000 and giving Thomas an SUV. Pearl blew the whistle on assistant coach Jimmy Collins. Thomas finished his career as the leading scorer in Fighting Illini history, but Illinois was put on two-years probation for "lack of institutional control."
Illinois' penalty was never directly attributed to Pearl, but the reverberation from it forced a once-promising assistant to spend 10 years dominating competition at Division II Southern Indiana (231-46 record, 1995 DII Championship), while clearly having the acuity to coach at the Division I level.
Pearl proved that quickly after his 2001 hiring at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He took the mid-major Panthers to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet Sixteen. That is when Tennessee came calling. Pearl was a perfect fit. He resurrected a program that went stale under Bruce Peterson, and quickly led Tennessee to national prominence. He fit in with the Vols' women's coaching legend Pat Summitt, attending her games in bright orange body paint to show his support. He won conference games at a rate never before seen in Knoxville. His .677 conference win percentage at Tennessee is better than any coach in Auburn's history.
We want to know what you, the fans, think. Does Bruce Pearl deserve a second chance to coach in the SEC? Does it matter if he can win at the rate he did at Tennessee? The best answers will be included in an update.