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Pearl To Auburn A Done Deal; Tigers Get A Winner

Auburn basketball is getting an upgrade.  The Tigers have hired Bruce Pearl as their new basketball coach.

Pearl — a man who has won at Southern Indiana (D-II), Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and at Tennessee — will take over a Tiger program that has been woeful since the departure of Cliff Ellis a decade ago.

Expect the NCAA to keep a close eye on AU hoops moving forward.  Expect one heckuva game between Auburn and Tennessee next season.  And expect several people to ask questions about the way Pearl landed at AU and about potential conflict of interest inside the NCAA at the time of his show-cause ban.

Pearl has become the first major-sport coach to come off a show-cause penalty and jump right back into coaching.

Auburn will still have to go before the NCAA to ask that Pearl’s penalty be ended ahead of August, as it’s currently scheduled.  A big, big get for Auburn and — let’s face it — a big, big get for an SEC in dire need of good basketball coaches.

 

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If Pearl Lands At Auburn, Get Ready For “Conflict Of Interest” Questions For The NCAA

dave-didionAs someone who covers SEC basketball, here’s hoping Bruce Pearl lands another coaching job if that is his desire.  Ole Miss, Eastern Connecticut State, wherever, Pearl is a larger than life character and a tremendous coach.  So bully for him if/when he coaches again.

Reports this morning suggest that Auburn has entered into negotiations with the ex-Tennessee coach and current NCAA analyst.  Auburn, huh?

About that whole “happy for him to coach anywhere” thing?  Let’s amend that.  How ’bout anywhere but Auburn?

No, this isn’t some “You guys hate Auburn” push.  It’s the situation that’s questionable, not the destination.

By now you know that Auburn senior associate athletic director Dave Didion (photo at left) was the lead NCAA investigator three years ago on the Tennessee case that ultimately led that school to fire Pearl and led to Pearl being handed a three-year show-cause penalty by Didion’s organization.  Last April, Didion resigned his post as the NCAA’s director of enforcement and accepted a job handling compliance issues for AU, a school he’d worked for once before.  At the time of his job switch, Didion had this to say:

 

“It’s personal, but I just wanted to go back to campus, and Auburn is one of the few places that I could go to.  I really enjoyed the people, and I enjoyed members of the coaching staff.  It’s a great community.  It’s a beautiful university.  No reason not to go back.”

 

And these comments were posted on Auburn’s website last June:

 

“I just told (AD Jay) Jacobs what the atmosphere was like at the national office but enforcement specifically, and told him I was looking for a different opportunity… He told me he was going to work on something…

“I’ve never lost my interest in Auburn University.  Jay can tell you that, because every time something good happened, I emailed him and congratulated him.  Every time something tragic happened, I emailed him.  I’ve always loved Auburn University — loved the campus, loved the people, loved the area.”

 

Interesting, no?

First, Didion was at/near the top of NCAA enforcement during the completely mishandled investigation into the University of Miami that led to an internal purge.  No wonder he didn’t like the atmosphere in his department, it was toxic.

Second, and most importantly, Didion’s comments about never losing his interest in Auburn open up a lot of questions about just how much he loved Auburn and how much he might have wanted to drive a winning coach from his job at one of Auburn’s rival.  To be fair, there’s no proof of a conspiracy and there’s no evidence that Didion always had his eyes set on an AU return.

But.

Didion worked at Auburn.  Didion says he never stopped loving Auburn.  Didion was the lead investigator on the Pearl case.  Pearl got iced.  Didion landed back at Auburn.  And if reports are true, Didion has now cleared Auburn to hire Pearl.  Can you say “conflict of interest?”

Pearl was show-cause’d because he provided false information to NCAA investigators.  Aside from playing players, that violation is the grand no-no in the organization’s rule book.  And with college sports’ governing body owning zero subpoena power, it’s a necessary rule.  Well, just listen to what Didion said about those types of violations last June:

 

“What I’ve always told coaches — and it remains true — is if you do something that is wrong and you come and talk with us about it, we can fix it, we can help you, no problem.  We might have to report a secondary violation, but that’s OK.  No problem.  But if you try to hide something or don’t tell us the truth about something it’s really, really bad.  We’re not going to tolerate it.  I don’t think Jay is going to tolerate it.  I don’t think President (Jay) Gogue is going to tolerate it.”

 

Well, if Pearl lands at Auburn, the school, Jacobs, Gogue and the very man who made those comments will be hiring someone who did that very thing to the man who made those comments.

News flash: People don’t like the NCAA.  People don’t trust the NCAA.  Pearl to Auburn probably won’t help matters.  Anyone looking for a new line of attack on the NCAA will have it.

Now, in South Alabama where Pearl has gone from “cheater” (at Tennessee) to a good man done wrong (if he lands at Auburn), Didion’s clearance makes AU the perfect spot for Pearl.  Who better to clear him?  Who better to say the NCAA overreacted?

And that will have to be the spin from Auburn, correct?  Either that or Didion and company will have to admit: “There equals bad; here equals good.”

For Auburn fans grumbling that anyone might question this whole Pearl/Didion/AU storyline, let’s try and provide some perspective.  Let’s say an Alabama associate AD goes to work for the NCAA.  He then investigates Auburn which leads to Gus Malzahn receiving a show-cause ban.  Then the same man returns to Tuscaloosa — admitting that he never took his eyes off the place — and Alabama hires Malzahn to replace Nick Saban as soon as his show-cause is up.  Ya know who’d be raising holy hell?  Auburn fans.  And all of you darn well know it.

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Ole Miss’ Kennedy Plays Down Rumors Of Interest In South Florida; Rebel Fans Should Be Careful What They Wish For

andy-kennedy-hands-upJudging from the reaction on Twitter and messageboards, many, many Ole Miss fans would love to see coach Andy Kennedy depart Oxford for the open job at South Florida.  ”Don’t let the door hit you,” seems to be the most common refrain.

This view ignores one rather large question that a Kennedy defection would raise — Just who is UM gonna get that’s better?  Wait, we know.  Bruce Pearl.  Of course.  The man will have his choice between the traditional hoops hotbeds of Ole Miss and Auburn.  Color us skeptical.

Now back to reality — Just who could the Rebels lure to Oxford?  State law prevents the school from giving out contracts of longer than four years (disadvantage).  The school typically sits at the bottom of the SEC with Mississippi State when it comes to the US Department of Education’s annual breakdown of athletic departments’ finances (disadvantage).  No matter how you cook the books, the Rebs just aren’t on the same financial footing as some of their SEC rivals.  The Tad Pad is finally set to be replaced, but the new venue will seat just 9,500 (disadvantage).  You can donate to the cause here, by the way (apparently Fox’s Shepard Smith is “Fired Up!”).  There’s also the issue of racism that must be dealt with on the recruiting trail every time a few morons hang a noose on a statue and pick the scab off old self-inflicted wounds (disadvantage).

But let’s say AD Ross Bjork can turn all those issues into positives.  There’s still one other thing that might deter someone like a Jim Boeheim from leaving Syracuse for Ole Miss (sarcasm).  That’s the fact that Kennedy has done a pretty good job.  In the eyes of any coach on solid-footing the following records look pretty good all things considered: 21-13, 24-11, 16-15, 24-11, 20-14, 20-13, 27-9, 19-14.  That’s a .630 winning percentage and six seasons with 20 wins or more.  Granted there’s only one NCAA bid in that eight-year stretch, but most coaches realize that the tournament bubble can be pretty unpredictable and Kennedy has lived on the tournament bubble.  Plus, it’s not like the NCAA selection committee is doling out bids by the bushel to the SEC right now.

Many a coach will likely look at Kennedy’s record — if he leaves — and wonder if they could do any better.  And if seven seasons of 19 or more wins didn’t please the UM masses before, what the heck would those fans expect of a new guy?

Look, we’re not saying Ole Miss can’t reach for the stars.  Go for it.  But the old line from a Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” flick is worth remembering: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Someone can win in basketball at Ole Miss.  Hell, Kennedy has won at Ole Miss.  But replacing Kennedy with a big name — even Bruce Pearl — is going to be tall order for Bjork.

Perhaps Mississippi fans should just look down US 278 a piece if they’re not happy with the words we’ve written here.  Mississippi State forced Rick Stansbury to fall on his sword.  Stansbury had won 293 games for the Bulldogs and taken them to six NCAA tourneys.  He’d rolled up 10 20-win seasons, too.  But the Bulldogs barked, Stansbury got the message, and the school was left to hire… Rick Ray.  Now, he seems a fine fellow and he might win some games eventually, but Rick Ray was not a name MSU fans were dreaming of when Stansbury was put to sleep.  And while State fans blame the last two years — 24-40 overall, 7-29 in the SEC — on Stansbury, there’s no one outside of Starkville who thinks things would have been that bad had Stansbury simply been retained.

For that matter, maybe the Rebels should look to their old rival if indeed Kennedy has interest in the South Florida job, as The Tampa Tribune has reported.  We suggest, however, that Ole Miss fans start being a bit more appreciative of 19- and 20-win seasons.  Look around the SEC.  There aren’t many guys who are doing much better than what Kennedy has done.

Just sayin’.

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SEC Fans All Clamoring For Pearl (Which Is Why He Should Sit Tight)

bruce-pearl3Over the weekend, Auburn sports information director Kirk Sampson decided to follow Bruce Pearl’s Twitter feed.

The internet then exploded.

Auburn fans — spurred on both by Sampson’s Twitter move and a pair of reports from AU-centric pay sites — caught Pearl Fever.  An announcement of his hiring was first expected Sunday.  Now some say an announcement could come today.  Pearl’s fellow ESPN’er Dan Dakich was having some fun with the hubbub last night, saying “War Eagle” while Pearl was across the desk from him during a bracket breakdown show.  An Auburn fan joined in the fun and games by editing Pearl’s Wikipedia page to read: “On March 16th, 2014, Pearl was hired as the head basketball coach of Auburn University.”

We’ve been down this road before with Nick Saban-to-Texas and Jon Gruden-to-Tennessee reports.  For that reason, we’ll believe the Pearl-to-Auburn rumors when the coach puts pen to paper.  That doesn’t mean AU athletic director Jay Jacobs isn’t chasing Pearl, just that we’d be surprised if he jumps at the offer.

A quick Twitter check yesterday revealed in one quick five-minute burst that fans of Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss, and Tennessee were calling for Pearl to be hired by their favorite school.  To heck with Frank Haith, Andy Kennedy and Cuonzo Martin.  And more than a few Alabama fans were still grousing about Anthony Grant getting another year when Pearl is just sitting out there waiting for a phone call(!).

This is no knock on Auburn and if Pearl really wants to dive back into coaching, best of luck to him and the Tigers.  Lord knows the SEC needs another good basketball coach.  But why jump at the first opportunity?  Clearly, the longer Pearl sits out the more other fanbases will scream for him.  It seems he becomes a better coach with every game he doesn’t actually coach (and he was pretty darned good to start with).  Also, this time a year from now his show-cause will be over and no school hiring him will have to go before the NCAA to ask for any kind of early parole.

Auburn has a small, 9,000-seat arena.  Would Pearl view that as a big enough stage for his triumphant return?  It’ll be up to Jacobs to convince him that it would, if indeed Pearl is Jacobs’ top choice.

For those Tiger fans who’ve already gotten their hopes up — and Sampson’s Twitter move certainly set things up for some “anticipointment” if Pearl doesn’t land the job — they should remember that all coaches like to hear their names called.  It’s fun to be wanted.  So when Pearl said last week that he would listen to AU or anyone else who called him, you can believe it.  Whether that means he’ll take the first offer he gets is another matter.

For Pearl, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him wait things out for another year.  He has the personality to become ESPN’s next Dick Vitale if he decides that’s the route for him.  Meanwhile, Tennessee — Pearl still resides in Knoxville — will be rebuilding next year and Misters Martin, Haith, Kennedy, Grant, Mark Fox, Billy Kennedy and Josh Pastner at Memphis will all be just a few losses away from fans revolting.  Matter of fact, if Mike Anderson doesn’t improve things next season, expect some Arkansas fans to join in on the “We want Bruce” chants, too.  If Frank Martin at South Carolina continues to make a rear of himself… ditto.

For Auburn fans, Pearl would indeed be a home run hire if the NCAA feels he’s paid his debt in full.  He would give clout to the Tiger program, boost recruiting, and become a one-man marketing army.  Past history suggests he’d also win on the Plains.  Quickly.

But be careful not to get your hopes up, Tiger fans.  Coaches love to be chased and there are plenty of people who know Pearl who don’t believe Auburn will be his top choice.

The clock’s ticking.  Maybe we’ll know something soon.  Heck, according to some messageboards, an announcement could be coming today, remember?

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The SEC Pays The Price For Bad Hoops On Selection Sunday (Again)

Head in HandsIn the end, the Southeastern Conference lived down to its reputation once again.  The NCAA Tournament selection committee looked at the league’s #7 RPI rank among conferences and punished the league accordingly.  Florida was handed the overall #1 seed in the tourney but Kentucky was arguably under-seeded and Tennessee was thisclose to not even receiving a bid.

Now, we just hate to say “told ya so,” but… told ya so.  Below are a few of our resume breakdowns from throughout the regular season.  While Joe Lunardi and ESPN’s Bracketology page had the league with five or even six teams in the dance for much of the season, our high-water mark was four.  And for the vast majority of the season we focused on three, stating on numerous occasions that only two teams clearly deserved bids at all:

 

1/6/14: Six NCAA Bids For The SEC?  Looks Like Three Or Four To Us

1/27/14: The SEC A Two-Bid League? Latest Resumes Show 7 Fighting for Bid #3

2/10/14: The SEC Still Looks Shaky When It Comes To NCAA Tournament Bids

3/10/14: Two Teams In, 12 Remaining SEC Teams Battling For One Bid (Probably)

 

We show you this not to rain on Lunardi’s parade, but to remind you that we’re typically pretty good judges of what the SEC’s NCAA prospects are long before Lunardi’s calculator arrives at the same conclusion (his last report correctly projected Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee in the dance).

The best example of the committee’s disdain for the SEC this season is Tennessee.  The Volunteers finished with RPI #41 and a strength of schedule ranked 22nd best in the country.  The Vols won five of their last six (never even trailing in those five wins).  Four of their 12 losses this season came to teams that wound up with 1 seeds in the tourney (three to Florida, one at Wichita State).  Three other Vol losses came to NCAA Tournament teams Xavier, NC State and Kentucky.  The Vols spanked ACC regular-season and tournament champion Virginia in December.

All that and Tennessee still landed in a play-in game, one of the last four teams to make the field at all (along with Xavier and NC State, ironically).

So how have previous RPI #41 teams been seeded?  According to the NCAA’s own RPI archives for previous Selection Sundays, like this:

Temple was a 9 seed last season.  Xavier was a 10 seed in 2012.  Richmond was a 12 seed (and a conference tournament winner) in 2011.  Washington was an 11 seed in 2010.  Texas was a 7 seed in 2009.  And Texas A&M was a 9 seed in 2008.

None of those squads were forced to play in a First Four game (they’ve only been around for the last three tourneys), and most of those teams were seeded higher than Tennessee.  Some much higher.

Is that a sign of disrespect toward Cuonzo Martin’s squad?  No, it’s a sign of disrespect toward the Southeastern Conference.

When you struggle outside the league — as many SEC teams did this year — it’s going to come back to bite the whole league in March.  And when you schedule laughably bad non-conference games — as many SEC teams did this year — that will also come back to bite the conference in March.

This year, the SEC gave several teams a pass on their non-conference slates because it didn’t want to cost its schools money by forcing them to cancel games that were already on the books and contracted.  Expect the conference office to be a bit more forceful in its scheduling demands for 2014-15, though Alabama proved that just scheduling better foes guarantees very little.  Anthony Grant’s team played Oklahoma, Duke, Wichita State, Xavier and UCLA in November and December.  They won none of those games.  So that doesn’t help the SEC’s RPI much more than scheduling five creampuffs would have.

The real fix for SEC basketball is an overall, league-wide upgrade in facilities and coaches.  That’s the only way the SEC will ever be able to build itself back up in hoops.  That’s the only way SEC teams can go outside the league footprint to recruit successfully — which is a necessity in basketball.

Until SEC schools start throwing more money at the problem the league will continue to suffer on Selection Sunday.  This marks the third NCAA Tournament since 2009 in which the league only landed three teams in the field.  That didn’t happen once from 1991 through 2009.  It’s time to fix the problem by upgrading facilities and tossing big bucks at proven coaches.  But there’s a catch.  With the league struggling for NCAA Tournament respect, most of those proven coaches might not want to climb on board Mike Slive’s ship.

Below is a look at all seven SEC teams set to play basketball this week and their paths to the Final Fours of the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitational Tournament…

 

SEC in the NCAA

 

1 Florida vs 16 Albany or 16 Mount St. Mary’s

March 20th, South Region

Next Possible Foes: 8 Colorado or 9 Pittsburgh

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 8 Colorado, 4 UCLA, 2 Kansas

 

8 Kentucky vs 9 Kansas State

March 21st, Midwest Region

Next Possible Foes: 1 Wichita State or 16 Cal-Poly or 16 Texas Southern

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 1 Wichita State, 4 Louisville, 2 Michigan

 

11 Tennessee vs 11 Iowa (First Four, Play-In Game)

March 19th, Midwest Region

Next Possible Foe: 6 UMass

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 6 UMass, 3 Duke, 2 Michigan, 1 Wichita State

 

SEC in the NIT

 

3 Arkansas vs 6 Indiana State

March 18th

Next Possible Foes: 2 California or 7 Utah Valley State

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 2 California, 1 SMU

 

4 San Francisco vs 5 LSU

March 19th

Next Possible Foes: 1 SMU or 8 UC-Irvine

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 1 SMU, 2 California

 

2 Missouri vs 7 Davidson

March 18th

Next Possible Foes: 3 Southern Miss or 6 Toledo

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 3 Southern Miss, 1 Minnesota

 

2 Georgia vs 7 Vermont

March 19th

Next Possible Foes: 3 Louisiana Tech or 6 Iona

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 3 Louisiana Tech, 1 Florida State

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SEC Headlines 3/17/2014

headlines-monSEC Football

1. Lane Kiffin’s offense at Alabama is “player friendly,” according to receiver Amari Cooper.

2. Cooper is trying to improve his 40-yard dash time, which he says is all about technique.

3. Auburn backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson believes “there will be more passing” when he becomes the starter.

4. Seth Emerson takes a pre-spring look at Georgia’s likely starters on defense.

5. Florida receiver Andre Debose was allegedly pushed through a window during a weekend altercation.

SEC Basketball

6. Florida is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. It’s the second time in school history.

7. Florida holding on against Kentucky to win the SEC tournament helped the Gators land the top spot.

8. Kentucky received a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What Final Four hope does UK have? Here’s a look.

9. Tennessee is a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament and will play Iowa for the right to face No. 6 seed UMass.

10. Cuonzo Martin’s job might not be safe just be getting Tennessee into the NCAA Tournament.

11. There are two big names on the candidate list for the Auburn job.

12. Arkansas is disappointed to be out of the NCAA Tournament but ready to play in the NIT.

13. Georgia is a No. 2 seed in the NIT and will host Vermont to open the tournament.

14. LSU is preparing for a road game at San Francisco in the first round of the NIT.

15. Missouri missed out on the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers will host Davidson to open the NIT.

16. Ole Miss’ season is over as the Rebels were not invited to the NIT. They chose not to pursue an invite to the CBI.

17. Texas A&M will play in the CBI. Coach Billy Kennedy: “We’re excited to be playing the postseason considering all the challenges we have had this season.”

NCAA Tournament

18. Here’s a look at the full NCAA Tournament bracket.

19. The NCAA Tournament selection committee made some puzzling decisions, writes Eric Prisbell.

20. USA Today provides a breakdown of the NCAA tournament field.

21. Click here to see all the tipoff times and TV information for every tournament game through Friday.

22. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee are all favored to win their first tourney game. Here are all the first round lines from Vegas.

23. ESPN provides some analysis for all four regions in the tournament.

24. Here is the selection committee’s official 1-68 rankings.

Extra

25. Texas has dismissed two players from the football team.

26. Video: Andy Staples discusses several college football items.

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Ruminations On The SEC Tourney, Auburn, And Pearl

Rodin-the-ThinkerJust some random thoughts and observations as we enter Day Three of the 2014 SEC Tournament…

 

*  Yesterday wasn’t the best day for the SEC’s remaining NCAA bubble teams.  Arkansas fell to South Carolina, which according to our numbers, should just about dump them from the Big Dance.  Missouri won, but the Tigers needed double-overtime to escape Texas A&M.  The committee likely won’t be too impressed with that, either.  Finally, by virtue of their win over the Razorbacks, Carolina now draws Tennessee this afternoon.  Win the Vols are probably in the tourney.  Lose to a team with RPI #150 and it’s right back onto the middle of the bubble.  In other words, UT could have better survived a loss to Arkansas than one to Frank Martin’s suddenly hot bunch from USC.

*  On the positive side for UT, MU and UA, a number of bubble squads (RPI 40ish-60ish) from other leagues lost yesterday: Oklahoma State, Iowa, SMU, Kansas State, St. John’s, and California.  Those help.  The bubble winners were Dayton, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Xavier, Providence, MTSU, and Florida State.  Those don’t.

*  The first two days of the SEC tourney have done little to convince anyone that the Southeastern Conference iss better than they might have thought.  Mississippi State — a team with three league wins from 18 regular-season games — bounced Vanderbilt.  South Carolina snuffed out higher-seeded Auburn.  Fifth-seeded Arkansas was evicted by Carolina.  Missouri needed double-OT versus Texas A&M.  The evening session last night — LSU over Alabama and Ole Miss over Mississippi State — restored some order, but the cream hasn’t exactly risen to the top in Atlanta yet.  Maybe today.

*  The Bruce Pearl debate rages on.  It seems the majority of Auburn fans want the ex-Tennessee coach, but there are still many who feel he’ll “Bobby Petrino” them and jet at the first opportunity.  Maybe so, but if he leaves the program better than he found it wouldn’t that still make Pearl a good hire?  If he left the program better than he found it.

*  What’s amusing is the usual Our Guy vs. Your Guy double-standard that exists in Fan World.  When Pearl lost his job at Tennessee and was hit with a three-year show-cause penalty, the vast majority of rival SEC fans rejoiced.  They Pearl a cheater.  Some said he should be “banned” longer for lying to the NCAA.  Now that Pearl’s penalty has almost been paid — the show-cause ends in August — he suddenly “didn’t do anything serious.”  At least that’s the take of many on the AU messageboards.  The flip-flop from “cheater” to over-penalized Robin Hood has less to do with forgiveness and more to do with the fact now he can coach at Auburn.  At Tennessee: Big, mean, dirty, lying cheater.  At Auburn: A guy who lied about a barbecue… “and that’s not even a violation anymore!”  (Love that bit of spin.  As if lying to the NCAA and calling the parent of a player to coax him into covering up a violation weren’t the bigger issues.)

*  If Pearl were to land on the Plains, you can be sure the inverse of the Our Guy vs. Your Guy double-standard would play out in the Volunteer State.  Let Pearl beat Tennessee in an important game or — try not to gasp — win big at Auburn and many UT fans who once shared the “Aw, it was just a barbecue” defense will begin to say, “He had to have cheated down there!”  Mark.  My.  Words.  (Some, of course, would just use Pearl’s success to hammer the Tennessee administration for not firing Cuonzo Martin and replacing him with Pearl before Auburn had a chance.)

*  At MrSEC.com, we’re big fans of second chances.  We hope Pearl gets one.  And if it’s at Auburn, we hope he walks the straight and narrow and scrubs clean his reputation once and for all.  But there’s one thing that still feels a bit icky about the possibility of Pearl coaching Auburn.  As Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News pointed out this week, Auburn associate AD Dave Didion was the lead investigator on the Tennessee case that cost Pearl his job.  So who better to say his sins were small, right?  Wrong.  If Didion was one of the investigators who was lied to point-blank and he turned that information over to the NCAA only to watch the NCAA smack Pearl — and basically force Tennessee to fire him or get smacked its ownself — then it’d be a little sketchy for the same man to say, “Yeah, but he’s clean enough for us here at Auburn!”  Maybe he’s as big a fan of redemption stories as we are, but we’re not going to buy the “who better to re-hire him?” narrative that will be spun from Birmingham to Ashford.

*  Speaking of Tennessee, let’s say Martin and the Vols escape an upset bid by South Carolina today.  Then let’s imagine that they somehow find a way to upset Florida and reach Sunday’s SEC Tournament finals.  Further, let’s say the Vols get a nice draw in the NCAA Tournament and win a game or two.  Who’s to say Martin won’t leave Tennessee for another gig?  If Jarnell Stokes turns pro this summer the Volunteers will enter next season with little optimism.  Martin has listened to three years of “Bring Back Bruce” talk and he’s a smart enough man to know that next year will be a step back, at least on paper.  While many Vol fans view him simply as “Not Pearl,” another school might see Martin as a guy who runs a tight ship, never has a player in off-the-court trouble, survived in the shadow of Pearl, and won 24, 26, 19, 20 and 20+ games over his last five years at two different schools.  Worst case scenario for UT: Pearl lands at an SEC rival, Martin jets, and the AD Dave Hart is forced to roll the dice on yet another up-and-comer.

*  There are a pair of coaches — aside from Pearl — who Auburn AD Jay Jacobs should take into consideration.  First is 56-year-old Ben Howland.  He won at Northern Arizona, he then won big at Pittsburgh (two Sweet Sixteen trips), and he then won even bigger at UCLA (three consecutive Final Four appearances from 2006 through 2008).  Here are the post-Final Four records that cost him his job with the Bruins: 26-9, 14-18, 23-11, 19-14 and 25-9.  Auburn fans would take those records in a heartbeat.  The other guy actually wants the Tigers’ job — if rumors are to be believed.  Rick Stansbury, 54, should be looked at long and hard by Jacobs.  If Auburn won’t/can’t hire Pearl, Stansbury would have better odds of success than an up-and-comer from a smaller league.  How do we know this?  Because he’s already won in the SEC at Mississippi State.  Stansbury blew up his own regime by signing and then catering to Renardo Sidney, yes, but while Auburn was flopping around at the bottom of the league standings like a dying fish, MSU was posting these records: 20-13, 14-16, 18-13, 27-8, 21-10, 26-4, 23-11, 15-15, 21-14, 23-11, 23-13, 24-12, 17-13, 21-12.  That is an overall record of 293-165 with a .641 winning percentage.  There were six NCAA trips and five NIT trips thrown in for good measure.  Know what Auburn’s done since Stansbury took over at State in 98-99?  They’ve gone 264-237 (.526) with three NCAA trips, two NIT trips, and soon-to-be four coaches.  Stansbury might not be a sexy hire, but here’s guessing AU fans would be satisfied if he averaged 21 wins a year for them as he did the rival Bulldogs.

*  Every SEC fan outside of the Sunshine State is probably pulling for Billy Donovan’s squad to take it on the chin at some point over the next three days.  No one likes Goliath.  But here at MrSEC.com, we think it would be pretty darn incredible to see an SEC team go a perfect 21-0 in league play.  Hey, we like upsets as much as the next bunch of guys and we really don’t care one way or another who cuts down the nets in Atlanta, but if history is made, we’re gonna savor seeing it.

*  Good luck to Missouri, Florida, Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Georgia today.

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Auburn The First Test Case For Ex-Tennessee Coach Pearl

bruce-pearl4Coaches slapped with a show-cause penalty typically have a rough time finding new jobs.  Bruce Pearl’s show-cause penalty will be up in August.  Auburn fired fourth-year coach Tony Barbee immediately after his woeful Tigers were bounced from the SEC Tournament by even more woeful South Carolina last night.  ”Pearl to Auburn,” naturally, has become a hot topic in the hours since Barbee’s dismissal.

So will Auburn roll the dice on a guy who would very likely win?

If there’s any school that would take a chance on an NCAA ex-con it’s AU.  The Tigers have been on probation more often than any other SEC school.  You can set your clock by the rumors, accusations, and investigations that swirl around the school’s athletic department on a regular basis.  This despite the fact that two of the school’s associate ADs were once NCAA employees. 

Add it up and Auburn chasing Pearl makes sense.  Heck, we wrote last March that Barbee’s job for this season might be saved because Pearl would be on the market for 2014-15.  We’ve written repeatedly this season that AU would be the most likely school to make a run at Pearl.  So will they?

The ex-Tennessee coach has said that he would like to coach again in the right situation.  While Auburn has been a coaching graveyard of late, it is an SEC school.  Pearl knows the lay of the land in Dixie.  After three years off the court even a small 9,000-seat arena — meaning Auburn’s — might appeal to him.

Then again, Pearl has put down roots in Knoxville.  He married an East Tennessee native who might not want to pick up and head to the Loveliest Village on the Plains.  His kids are in East Tennessee jobs and schools.  And he’s already stated that he wants to go a place where the administration wants basketball to be as successful as football.  Not sure that any school in Alabama fits that particular mold.

Pearl has, however, already sorta/kinda pitched himself for the AU job.  A savvy marketer, he responded to a question at The Birmingham Tip-Off Club in December by explaining how he built fan support at Tennessee:

 

“So I would go to the Auburn communities and we would have our own events (before Tennessee’s trips to Auburn).  I got 50 people to come to the game at Auburn while I was developing my program.  We were asking for their support.”

 

Translation: If I can get people into Auburn’s gym as Tennessee’s coach, what could I do as Auburn’s coach?

So again, will AD Jay Jacobs go after a proven winner who carries some baggage from previous stops?  There was controversy when Pearl was an assistant at Iowa.  He was blackballed in the coaching industry for a decade after taping a phone call with a recruit and trying to pin dirt on Illinois’ staff.  At D-II Southern Indiana he won big, but he did so in a Terry Bowden kind of way… taking rejects and reclamation projects from D-I schools.  He was handed the equivalent of a speeding ticket for having a high school junior at his house while at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He did the same at Tennessee, then lied about it, then called a prospect’s parent to — in the parent’s mind — cajole him into covering the matter up when the NCAA called.  And that resulted in a trip to the NCAA hoosegow.

If Pearl wants a job in the SEC, Auburn is the place he’s most likely to land.  But whether he would take the job or not is a question for another day.  For now the issue is simple: Will Auburn try to hire Bruce Pearl?  If Jacobs does ring him up, it will be a clear sign that Pearl’s debt to society has been paid in the eyes of school administrators.  But if Auburn — Auburn — doesn’t chase him, it likely means Pearl won’t be the hot commodity this offseason that many believed he would be.

Auburn is the test case for Pearl.  Will a big-time school hire him and go before the NCAA to explain why they hired him (which Auburn would have to do)?

The jury’s out.

 

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If Kentucky Flames Out Will It Prove That Calipari’s One-And-Done Doesn’t Work?

john-calipari-shockedGet ready.

If/when Kentucky stubs its toe in the NCAA Tournament, you can be sure hundreds of columnists and media types (like us) will opine that we all finally have definitive proof that John Calipari’s one-and-done system won’t work.  An NIT washout in 2013 and a disappointing 2014 will be all many need to see before pronouncing judgement.  And that’s because so many of us questioned Calipari’s recruiting plan from the get-go.  If you doubted it in the beginning, it’ll be a heckuva lot easier to rip it after a pair of humdrum seasons.

That isn’t fair, of course.  Kentucky is 22-9 and the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament.  Yes, 22-9 is enough to make spoiled Wildcat fans yelp for Coach Cal’s scalp on Twitter and messageboards, but to most fans 22-9 would be a pretty good year.  Especially for a team loaded down with freshmen.  Any other big-time program going 22-9 with an inexperienced line-up would be described as “rebuilding” by the press.  But we won’t give Calipari that kind of break.

The reality is that a flameout in the NCAA tourney won’t at all prove Calipari’s system doesn’t work.  It will only prove that fielding teams made up of one-and-doners makes things more difficult for the coach himself.  Each year he has to learn a new group of starters.  Each year has to coax them into buying into a “team first” mentality.  And each year he has to pray that one of his rookies doesn’t go down with an injury.

Since he started pushing Kentucky as an NBA stepladder, Calpari has reached an Elite Eight, two Final Fours, a national title game (which UK won), the NIT, and now another NCAA tourney.  (The NIT bid came in a year in which Kentucky went 4-5 down the stretch after an injury to dominating big man Nerlens Noel.)  Most coaches, schools and fans would take that five-year record and smile.

In fact, isn’t it possible that we in the media overhyped this particular Wildcat recruiting class in the first place?  This was about the fourth year in a row in which America’s best-known basketball gurus declared that Kentucky had landed “The Greatest Class Of All-Time.”  (Pause for trumpets, fanfare.)  And if we in the press — along with rabid Big Blue fans — called it the best class ever, well, by gosh it has to be the coach’s fault he’s only gone 22-9.  To hell with chemistry.

This comes from a writer and website, mind you, that has questioned Calipari’s one-and-done plan.  Specifically, we wondered if fans would connect with any of these drive-thru players.  In 20 years, will anyone in the Bluegrass State remember which 9-month Kentucky residents were on a Final Four team and which were on the NIT team?  We believe all those faces and names will run together.  (For comparison, Florida fans will have a much easier time remembering the four seniors who led them to a perfect 18-0 SEC record this year.)

We’ve also written that toughest part of recruiting NBA superstars-in-waiting will be getting them to play team-first basketball.  Every blue-chipper UK signs was the brightest star on his high school team.  Attitudes have to be adjusted and some are more maleable than others.  Remarkably, Calipari’s first three batches of one-and-doners did yield to the team.  At least well enough to reach Elite Eights and beyond.

But even though we don’t believe a revolving door approach to recruiting is the best way to build a basketball program, we can’t claim that the past two seasons prove Calipari’s system won’t work long-term.  At least no more than we could have said after Calipari’s first three seasons, “Yep, this is going to be a breeze for Kentucky.”

The one-and-done approach makes things more difficult for the coach.  But four NCAA tourneys in five years with an Elite Eight, two Final Fours and a national title in the books doesn’t look too darn bad from where we sit.

Besides, what’s Calipari supposed to do?  Not sign star players who want to slip on a Kentucky jersey?  Please.  Wildcat fans would revolt.

But be ready.  If/when the Cats are ousted pre-Elite Eight from the Big Dance, Calipari’s one-and-done system will come under heavy fire.  Very heavy fire.

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Georgia’s Richt Warns About Dangers Of Football Early Signing Period

gfx-they-said-it4For years there has been an assumption in the press that most football coaches would fall all over themselves to rubber stamp an early recruiting period for their sport.  But that has not been the reaction to word that the NCAA will soon discuss creating just such a window.

Speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, here’s what Georgia’s Mark Richt had to say:

 

“I always say, ‘Be careful what we ask for’ because I don’t know what that will do to our recruiting calendar.  I think there’s some sanity to it right now.  I think if everybody plays by the same rules, then it’s good as it is.  I’d be afraid to change it.  I don’t want to turn the regular season into such a recruiting frenzy that you can’t even coach your team on a weekly basis.  I enjoy coaching football, too.

I think if you moved the signing date up, I think you push more official visits to the football season.  Sooner or later, they’ll say, ‘We don’t want all these official visits during the season.  Why don’t we move them to the summer?’  Then we’ll have official visits in the summer, and no one will get any time away.  Not me, not our assistant coaches, not the kids, not the high school coaches, and not the families.  Where does it end?”

 

That’s just one concern.  Stanford’s David Shaw voiced another and his concerns make as much sense as Richt’s:

 

“What’s going to happen is, if a kid wants to change his mind late after the early signing period, he’s going to appeal and that appeal is going to go through because the committees that decide those appeals, they always give in toward the student-athlete.  So you have a kid that might be 16 going on 17 that commits and then really has a chance to think about it and changes his mind and we’re going to try to hold him to it.”

 

The NCAA’s consideration of an early signing period for football appears to be very real.  But the devil is in the details, as they say.  And the more one compares the pluses — some coaches won’t have kids flip on them late — versus the minuses — no downtime for coaches and players, committees to rule on signed kids who want to flip, a tougher landscape for coaches at academic schools and at schools with little in-state talent — the more the negatives appear to outweigh the positives.

The official MrSEC.com verdict on this idea?  It’s unnecessary.  Don’t do it, NCAA.

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