Pearl speaking in Knoxville in 2010
|Born||March 18, 1960|
|Alma mater||Boston College (1982)|
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|Head coaching record|
|Tournaments||15–10 (NCAA Division I)|
5–2 (Horizon League)
|Accomplishments and honors|
|NCAA Regional – Final Four (2019) |
NCAA Division II (1995)
4 GLVC regular season (1994, 1996, 1997, 2001)
2 Horizon League Tournament (2003, 2005)
2 Horizon League regular season (2004, 2005)
2 SEC regular season (2008, 2018)
SEC Tournament (2019)
|NABC Division II Coach of the Year (1995)|
Sporting News Coach of the Year (2006)
Adolph Rupp Cup (2008)
2× GLVC Coach of the Year (1993, 1994)
3× Horizon League Coach of the Year (2003–2005)
2× SEC Coach of the Year (2006, 2008)
Bruce Allan Pearl (born March 18, 1960) is an American college basketball coach, and the head coach of the Auburn Tigers men's basketball program. He previously served as the head coach at Tennessee, Milwaukee, and Southern Indiana. Pearl led Southern Indiana to a Division II national championship in 1995 and was named Division II Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He has won three conference championships and two conference tournament championships as a Division I head coach, and has made ten NCAA Tournament appearances. Pearl was named Coach of the Year by Sporting News in 2006 and was awarded the Adolph Rupp Cup in 2008. He also served as the head coach for the Maccabi USA men's basketball team that won the gold medal at the 2009 Maccabiah Games.
Early life and family
A native of Boston, Pearl attended Sharon High School in Sharon, Massachusetts and is a 1982 graduate of Boston College, where he served as the manager of the men's basketball team. He is married to Brandy. He has two daughters, Jacqui and Leah and two sons, Steven, who is now his assistant coach at Auburn, and Michael.
Pearl has also been the head coach at Tennessee, Milwaukee and, prior to that, at Southern Indiana, where he won a Division II national championship. He also served as an assistant coach at Iowa under then-head coach Tom Davis.
Among his achievements, Pearl is the second-fastest NCAA coach to reach 300 victories, and needed only 382 games to reach this mark (Roy Williams, the current coach at North Carolina, needed 370 games at Kansas to reach this milestone).
Against division rival Kentucky and in-state rival Vanderbilt, Pearl chose to wear a brightly colored orange jacket in honor of the late UT coach, Ray Mears. Pearl also wore the jacket during the 2009 SEC Men's Tournament Final.
During the 1988–89 basketball season, Pearl, then an assistant coach at Iowa, was at the center of a recruiting scandal involving Illinois. Both Illinois and Iowa were recruiting Deon Thomas, a top high school player from Chicago. Pearl lost this recruiting battle when Thomas committed to Illinois. Thereafter, Pearl called the high school student and recorded a phone conversation with Thomas, which may have been illegal depending on where Pearl originated the call. (Illinois requires prior consent of all participants to monitor or record a phone conversation according to Ill. Rev. Stat. Ch. 38, Sec. 14–2; however, Iowa, where Pearl was coaching at the time, only requires one party's consent to record a phone conversation.) During the conversation, Pearl asked Thomas if he had been offered an SUV and cash by Illinois assistant coach Jimmy Collins, and Thomas seemed to indicate that he had. Pearl then turned over copies of the tapes to the NCAA, accompanied by a memo describing the events. During the subsequent NCAA investigation, Thomas denied the allegations and said the story was false, that he was agreeing with Pearl only to try to get rid of him. Thomas later passed a polygraph test in which he denied Pearl's accusation of Illinois's offering cash and a car. The NCAA did not find Illinois guilty of any wrongdoing relating to Thomas's recruitment, finding that the purported evidence provided was not "credible, persuasive and of a kind on which reasonably prudent persons rely in the conduct of serious affairs." However, since the investigation uncovered other violations, including Illinois's third major violation in six years, the NCAA cited Illinois with a "lack of institutional control" charge and implemented several recruiting restrictions and a one-year post-season ban.
When Pearl and Collins were both head coaches for four years in the Horizon League, the two men never engaged in the traditional postgame handshake, reportedly due to lingering feelings over the incident. When Thomas was asked about forgiving Pearl in a 2005 interview, he was quoted as saying, "It's hard to forgive a snake." Thomas went on to become the University of Illinois's all-time leading scorer.
In 1992, Pearl got his first head-coaching job, at Southern Indiana. He inherited a Screaming Eagles team that had won just 10 games in the previous season. Pearl posted a 22–7 record in his first season, and led the Eagles to nine straight NCAA D-II tournaments in addition to winning four Great Lakes Valley Conference titles.
In 1994, USI finished with a 28–4 record en route to a loss in the D-II championship game; in 1995, the Eagles won 29 games and claimed the D–II championship. A team from the GLVC played for the National Championship every year after his first season at USI. Pearl was named the NABC Division II coach of the year after his national championship. He left USI with a 231–46 record over nine years.
Despite Pearl's success at turning Southern Indiana into a major power, it took him almost a decade to return to Division I; reportedly, he was blackballed by the Division I college coaching fraternity for his role in inadvertently revealing violations at Illinois by submitting a different, deceptive accusation.
Pearl took over as head coach of Milwaukee in 2001. In just four seasons, he compiled 86 wins (including a school-record 26 in 2005, and a new Horizon League record for winning percentage) and led Milwaukee to their first NCAA tournament appearances in 2003 and 2005. Pearl led them to the Horizon League tournament title in both of those years. He also led the school to its first ever NIT bid, as well as its first-ever NCAA D–I postseason victory, in 2004. Milwaukee's 2005 NCAA Tournament run capped the best season in school history, as the Panthers won both the regular season and conference tournament titles, defeating the Detroit Titans in the championship game. Using an intense full-court press, the Panthers scored two upsets in three days over Alabama and Boston College en route to the Sweet Sixteen, where they fell to eventual national runner-up Illinois. The Panthers finished their season 26–6 and were ranked in the coaches poll at the end of the season for the first time ever (# 23). Pearl left UWM after the 2005 season, his fourth, as the Horizon League's leader in all-time winning percentage (51–13, 79.7%).
On March 28, 2005, Pearl was named as the new head coach at Tennessee, succeeding Buzz Peterson. Tyler Smith had signed with the Vols under Peterson, but decided not to attend Tennessee. Jamont Gordon went to conference rival Mississippi State. Smith opted for a season of prep school before heading to Iowa, though later transferred to Tennessee and became a starter. Pearl stirred up more controversy when he released Matthew Dotson from his scholarship.
Expectations were low for the Vols in Pearl's first season. Having lost their two leading scorers from a team that had been just 14–17 the previous season, Tennessee was picked to finish fifth in the six-team Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference. However, the season started off well, and Tennessee entered the national rankings in December, when it routed then No. 2-ranked Texas, 95–78.
The Vols went on to lead the SEC East for virtually the entire season, with other highlights being a win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena and two wins over eventual national champion Florida. But after entering the AP Top 10 in February, the team lost six of its last nine games and dropped to a ranking of 18th. Although Tennessee won the SEC East, it was upset in the second round of both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, the latter as a no. 2 seed. The team's 22–8 record was one of the best in school history. Following the season, Pearl drew accolades from national recruiting services for signing one of the nation's best recruiting classes, featuring three top-50 recruits in Duke Crews, Wayne Chism and Ramar Smith.
On January 22, 2007, Pearl attended a Lady Vols game with his upper body painted orange. He and a few of his players spelled out "V-O-L-S" (Pearl was the "V"). Pearl stood in front of the student section and cheered for the Lady Vols as they came out. Pearl's actions brought national media attention to the Tennessee program, and highlighted efforts to support women's collegiate athletics. Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt returned the favor on Senior Night for the men's team on February 27, 2007. Before the game, Summitt came out as a cheerleader, complete with uniform, and she led the crowd in a rendition of Rocky Top. The seventh-largest crowd in school history also witnessed Pearl's squad rout the then No. 4-ranked defending and eventual national champions Florida Gators.
Pearl's team went on to finish tied for second in the SEC East with Vanderbilt, earning a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Vols crushed Long Beach State by 35 points in the first round, then rallied to upset Virginia to reach Pearl's second Sweet 16. The Vols were defeated in the next round by the nation's top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, losing by a point though the Volunteers led the majority of the game. Tennessee's 24 wins were then ranked third in the program's history. Pearl was rumored as a candidate for the head coaching position at Iowa, but indicated on March 27, 2007, that he was not interested in leaving Tennessee.
On February 23, 2008, Pearl led the second-ranked Vols into in-state, undefeated rival Memphis to play the # 1 ranked Tigers. After a back and forth, emotionally heated contest, Tennessee defeated Memphis 66–62, handing Memphis its first loss of the season and its first home loss in 47 games. The win also cemented UT with a # 1 rank the following week—the first #1 ranking in the school's 100-year basketball history. However, one day after the rankings were posted, the # 1 Vols were upset by the Vanderbilt Commodores 72–69.
On March 5, 2008, Pearl's team defeated the Florida Gators 89–86 to claim Tennessee's first outright SEC Regular Season Championship in 41 years. On March 16, 2008 Tennessee was chosen as a #2 seed in the East region of the 2008 NCAA basketball tournament. Pearl's Volunteers advanced to the semifinals (Sweet 16) of the East Regional, beating Pearl's former Horizon League rival and 7-seed Butler in the second round. They ended their season losing to the Louisville Cardinals by a score of 79–60. The 31 total victories that season are the most in school history.
December 3, 2008, marked a significant date for Pearl as he was able to win his 400th game by defeating UNC-Asheville. In doing so, Pearl became the 6th-fastest basketball coach to ever reach the 400 mark and 2nd-fastest among active head coaches (behind Roy Williams). The night was also very important for the Tennessee basketball program. It marked the 35th consecutive victory at home for Pearl and the Vols, beating the previous streak of 33 wins which extended from January 2, 1966 to February 24, 1968. In addition, Tyler Smith recorded the school's first ever triple-double when he had 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. In March Pearl would lead the Vols to their first SEC Tournament Final in 20 years, where they would lose in a controversial finish to Mississippi State. The Vols went on to earn a 9 seed in the NCAA tournament where they were eliminated by Oklahoma State 77–75 on March 20, 2009. UT announced that they and Pearl just agreed to a six-year extension for Pearl to stay with the university.
On November 17, 2009, Pearl was able to record victory number 100 at Tennessee, the second fastest UT coach to reach the century mark, as his team defeated UNC-Asheville 124–49. The 124-point total was the most ever scored by Tennessee in a regular season game. Tennessee's 34 assists also set a school record and its 16 3-pointers tied another.
On February 27, 2010, Tennessee defeated the #2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats in Knoxville, 74–65, cementing the Vols (all 5 years that Pearl has coached) for its 5th straight NCAA tournament appearance.
On Bruce Pearl's 50th birthday, March 18, 2010, Tennessee defeated San Diego State in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament by a score of 62–59. The Vols followed this victory with a second round defeat of Ohio, 83–69, to advance to the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years and Pearl's fourth Sweet 16 in six years.
On March 26, 2010, the Tennessee Volunteers advanced to their first Elite 8 in school history with a 76–73 defeat of the Ohio State Buckeyes. On March 28, the Volunteers narrowly missed a trip to the Final Four, losing 70–69 to the Michigan State Spartans in the Midwest Regional Final in St. Louis.
Early in the 2010–11 season Tennessee beat nationally ranked Villanova and Pittsburgh, reaching a 7–0 record and #7 AP ranking. However, controversy from an NCAA investigation took its toll on the team. The Vols went only 4–8 in their last 12 games. After limping to an 8–8 conference record, Tennessee was blown out by 30 points in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament by Michigan. This was the largest margin of defeat in the history of the NCAA tournament between a #8 and #9 seed. As it turned out, this would be the last game Pearl would coach at Tennessee.
In the summer of 2008, Pearl invited high school junior Aaron Craft and members of his family to a cookout at his Knoxville home while Craft was on an unofficial visit to Tennessee. At the cookout, Pearl said that Craft wasn't allowed to be there under NCAA rules, but encouraged all those in attendance not to tell anyone about it. When the NCAA began an investigation of the affair, Pearl not only lied about the cookout, but also told Craft's father to lie as well.
On September 10, 2010, Pearl acknowledged the violations in the Craft affair, and also admitted lying about it to the NCAA. As a result, Tennessee imposed sanctions on Pearl and his entire staff including $1.5 million in salary reduction over the coming five years and a delayed retention bonus. His off-campus recruiting was also restricted completely from September 4, 2010 to September 23, 2011. On November 20, 2010, the SEC ordered Pearl to sit out Tennessee's first eight SEC games.
After finding out about additional NCAA violations, as well as a violation of the school's substance abuse policy by a player, Tennessee fired Pearl on March 21, 2011—three days after the Vols' blowout loss to Michigan. On August 23, 2011, Pearl was given a three-year show-cause penalty for lying to the NCAA, effective until August 23, 2014. This meant that the sanctions imposed on Pearl would remain in force if he was hired by an NCAA member school within that period. Specifically, he was prohibited from engaging in any "recruiting activities", which meant he could not contact recruits, although he could evaluate talent during that period. If a school chose to hire him and challenged the NCAA restrictions, it had to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions and "show cause" for why the sanctions imposed on Pearl should not follow him to that school. In imposing the penalty, the NCAA said that Pearl's lies turned what would have been a minor case into a major one. His assistant coaches were also given one-year show-cause orders, in effect until August 23, 2012.
Pearl was named Auburn's 20th head basketball coach on March 18, 2014, replacing Tony Barbee. Pearl was hired despite still being under a show-cause penalty because of the recruiting violations that occurred while he was the head coach at Tennessee. Pearl was greeted by 100-plus fans when he arrived at the Auburn University Regional Airport that afternoon. Pearl was formally introduced at a press conference in Auburn Arena that evening. On the opportunity, Pearl said, "I’m humbled and blessed to be back in the game that I love. 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. I’m thrilled to join the Auburn family and appreciative of this opportunity and the challenge that awaits." Pearl signed a 6-year contract worth $2.2 million per year with a $100,000 annual escalator.
Pearl won his first game as Auburn's head coach on November 14, 2014 against his former school, Milwaukee, 83–73. Despite failing to finish with a winning record for the first time in his career as a head coach, Pearl's first two seasons at Auburn were not without some significant wins. He led Auburn to the SEC Tournament semifinals in 2015 as a 13 seed, and ended Auburn's 18-game losing streak to Kentucky in 2016. He earned his 500th career win as a head coach on January 18, 2017 after defeating LSU, 78–74.
Before Pearl's fourth season at Auburn, his associate head coach Chuck Person was arrested on charges of corruption and bribery. Auburn elected to hold sophomores Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy out of games due to eligibility concerns raised over the FBI investigation. Pearl was cited as being uncooperative with Auburn's internal investigation of the program at first, though school president Steven Leath and Pearl have since come to an understanding of expectations for the investigation. Despite the scrutiny both internally and externally and losing two players due to the investigation, Pearl has led the 2017–18 team to its best record since 1999 while winning the SEC regular season championship. A player, Bryce Brown, credits the recent team success to Pearl's taking them to Italy to build team 'chemistry', opponent preparation by Pearl, and the head coaches' strong belief in each player. In 2019, Pearl's team tied for 4th in the conference and won the SEC Conference Tournament by beating Tennessee handily in the championship game 84-64, giving Auburn their 2nd tournament championship. Pearl's current record at Auburn is 100–71 (.585).
In the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Pearl's Auburn team narrowly defeated #12 seed New Mexico State 78-77 in the first round. Auburn subsequently topped #4 seed Kansas 89-75 to advance to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance in 16 years. Auburn then beat #1 seed North Carolina 97-80 to advance to the Elite Eight, before defeating #2 seed Kentucky 77-71 in overtime to advance to Auburn's first ever Final Four. Auburn became only the second team in NCAA history to defeat Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky in the same season, the three winningest programs in college basketball history. Auburn would lose to Virginia in the Final Four, 63-62.
Head coaching record
|Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles (Great Lakes Valley Conference) (1992–2001)|
|1992–93||Southern Indiana||22–7||14–4||2nd||NCAA Division II Regional Third Place|
|1993–94||Southern Indiana||28–4||16–2||1st||NCAA Division II Runner-up|
|1994–95||Southern Indiana||29–4||15–3||3rd||NCAA Division II Champion|
|1995–96||Southern Indiana||25–4||18–2||1st||NCAA Division II Sweet 16|
|1996–97||Southern Indiana||23–5||16–4||T–1st||NCAA Division II First Round|
|1997–98||Southern Indiana||27–6||16–4||3rd||NCAA Division II Sweet 16|
|1998–99||Southern Indiana||26–6||18–4||2nd||NCAA Division II Sweet 16|
|1999–00||Southern Indiana||25–6||17–3||2nd||NCAA Division II Sweet 16|
|2000–01||Southern Indiana||26–4||18–2||1st||NCAA Division II First Round|
|Southern Indiana:||231–46 (.834)||148–28 (.841)|
|Milwaukee Panthers (Horizon League) (2001–2005)|
|2002–03||Milwaukee||24–8||13–3||2nd||NCAA Division I Round of 64|
|2003–04||Milwaukee||20–11||13–3||1st||NIT First Round|
|2004–05||Milwaukee||26–6||14–2||1st||NCAA Division I Sweet 16|
|Milwaukee:||86–38 (.694)||51–13 (.797)|
|Tennessee Volunteers (Southeastern Conference) (2005–2011)|
|2005–06||Tennessee||22–8||12–4||1st (East)||NCAA Division I Round of 32|
|2006–07||Tennessee||24–11||10–6||2nd (East)||NCAA Division I Sweet 16|
|2007–08||Tennessee||31–5||14–2||1st (East)||NCAA Division I Sweet 16|
|2008–09||Tennessee||21–13||10–6||T–1st (East)||NCAA Division I Round of 64|
|2009–10||Tennessee||28–9||11–5||3rd (East)||NCAA Division I Elite Eight|
|2010–11||Tennessee||19–15||8–8||5th (East)||NCAA Division I Round of 64|
|Tennessee:||145–61 (.704)||65–31 (.677)|
|Auburn Tigers (Southeastern Conference) (2014–present)|
|2017–18||Auburn||26–8||13–5||T–1st||NCAA Division I Round of 32|
|2018–19||Auburn||30–10||11–7||T–4th||NCAA Division I Final Four|
|Auburn:||100–72 (.581)||40–50 (.444)|
Postseason invitational champion
- "ESPN News Wire – ESPN". ESPN.com.
- Wolfley, Bob (July 22, 2009). "Stoitsday – Costas still a Kubek fan". Sports. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. p. C2.
- "University of Illinois, Champaign, Infractions Report" (Press release). NCAA Committee on Infractions. November 7, 1990.[permanent dead link]
- Landman, Brian Cinderella fitted for a bull's-eye. St. Petersburg Times. March 24, 2005
- Forde, Pat. Pearl served his time in Div. II before thriving in Div. I again. ESPN, March 18, 2008.
- "Smith carrying 'a heavy heart' after his father's death last month".
- Rivals.com Basketball Recruiting – Early enrollee, school switch change team rankings. Rivalshoops.rivals.com. Retrieved on November 17, 2011.
- Report: Bruce Pearl Turns Down Iowa Coaching Job – Sports News Story – KCCI Des Moines Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Kcci.com (March 27, 2007). Retrieved on 2011-11-17.
- Katz, Andy (August 25, 2011). "Three-year show-cause for Bruce Pearl". ESPN.com. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- Transcript of Friday's press conference on the NCAA investigation of the men's basketball program. GoVolsXtra. Retrieved on November 17, 2011.
- "SEC suspends Bruce Pearl 8 games".
- "UT fires Bruce Pearl". WATE-TV. March 21, 2011. Archived from the original on March 23, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2011.
- Beth Rucker,Tennessee Fires Coach Bruce Pearl, Associated Press via NBC Sports, March 21, 2011
- Kelly, Rob (March 21, 2011). "Bruce Pearl Fired: Does Jim Tressel Deserve the Same Fate at Ohio State?". Bleacher Report.
- O'Neil, Dana. In the end, the right people were punished. ESPN, August 24, 2011.
- Beth Rucker, "Pearl Takes Job as VP for Knoxville Company," WKRN.com, August 30, 2011.
- "Bruce Pearl named Auburn men's basketball coach". CBSSports.com. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
- "Pearl 'back in the game' as Auburn coach". ESPN.com. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
- "Bruce Pearl greets Auburn basketball fans at first press conference". www.wbrc.com. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
- The War Eagle Reader, March 18, 2014.
- Staff, "Pearl's Buyout Clause Protects Auburn From Tennessee Archived 2014-03-20 at the Wayback Machine," The War Eagle Reader, March 18, 2014.
- "Auburn basketball rallies to defeat Wisconsin-Milwaukee in season opener". AL.com. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
- "Kentucky clobbers Auburn in SEC Tournament semifinals". Retrieved September 6, 2016.
- "Auburn basketball ends 18-game losing streak to Kentucky with 75–70 upset". Fly War Eagle. January 16, 2016. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
- "Bruce Pearl gets 500th career win over LSU at home". USA TODAY. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
- "NCAA coaches among 10 arrested for corruption". ESPN.com. Retrieved September 26, 2017.
- "Auburn holding out Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley indefinitely amid FBI probe". CBSSports.com. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
- "Sources: Job at stake if Pearl doesn't cooperate". ESPN.com. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
- "'Sooner or later' Bruce Pearl will have to talk with Auburn president about basketball investigation". AL.com. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
- "This Auburn basketball team parties like it's 1999". AL.com. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
- Katz, Andy. (January 30, 2018). "Video: Bryce Brown talks about Auburn's surprise rise." NCAA website Retrieved January 31, 2018.