Before hiring Bruce Pearl, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs did his homework.
Pearl comes to Auburn with five months left on his three-year show-cause penalty which was handed down by the NCAA in 2011 when he was cited with a “failure to monitor the program” charge after lying during an investigation regarding impermissible contact with a recruit while he was the head coach at Tennessee.
Pearl admitted to misleading NCAA investigators about photos taken of him and Aaron Craft, who ended up going to Ohio State, at a 2008 cookout at his home.
Prior to naming him Tony Barbee’s replacement, however, Jacobs said he and the university’s compliance department thoroughly vetted Pearl and his show-cause penalty.
David Didion, who was the NCAA’s director of enforcement during Pearl’s show-cause investigation before accepting a job in Auburn’s compliance department last spring, was heavily involved in the process.
“I asked Dave, ‘If I have a chance, could I hire Bruce Pearl? Would you recommend Bruce Pearl?’” Jacobs said Tuesday night after Pearl’s introductory press conference. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’
“Dave is a tough NCAA enforcement guy, and when he told me that … What Dave said carried a lot of weight with me.”
Jacobs added that the confirmation he got from Didion allowed him to move forward in the hiring process and talk with other people about Pearl.
Auburn also talked with the NCAA before making the hire.
“If Dave had said, ‘Absolutely not,’ and explained to me why, it wouldn’t have happened,” Jacobs said. “I wouldn’t have moved forward. But I started with him.”
Jacobs said after meeting Pearl at his house in Knoxville, Tenn., Monday night, he was convinced Pearl was not only sorry for his mistake, but was the right man to rebuild Auburn basketball.
But it wasn’t a quick decision for Jacobs, who started talks with Pearl on Friday, two days after firing Barbee.
“I thought about his reputation for so long,” Jacobs said. “And it was a struggle for me, because of my values and the values we have in our department. I really struggled with it. But I also believe in second chances. And so when I sat with him, (I was) easily convinced that he’s repented and it was a mistake, not a character flaw.
“I thought, ‘You know what, this is a guy that deserves a second chance. This is a guy that can win. And if anybody will embrace somebody for a mistake they’ve made, the Auburn family will.’”
Pearl will not be able to recruit until Aug. 24, the day after his show-cause penalty expires.
As of Tuesday, Jacobs said Auburn had no immediate plans to petition the NCAA for a waiver to try to remove Pearl’s sanctions prior to the August date.
“We’re just going to take that one day at a time,” Jacobs said. “Right now, he’s been penalized and he’s got a few months left on that penalty, and he and I have come to the conclusion that we’re going to operate as if he’s still under that show-cause moving forward.
“If we have the opportunity to do anything, we may. … If there’s a waiver process or something that we decide we would like to ask them, we will. But if not, we have a plan to operate so it doesn’t set us back too far.”
Pearl is the first coach with an active show-cause penalty to be hired by another program.
Only one other coach has been hired by a school after such a sanction. Morgan State hired Todd Bozeman in 2006 after he received an eight-year show-cause penalty in 1997 while at Cal.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, who suspended Pearl for eight games during the 2010-11 season for lying to NCAA investigators, said he hopes Auburn did its “due diligence” when making the hire.
“Our institutions understand the expectations their coaches must meet in terms of compliance with NCAA and SEC rules,” Slive said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon by the conference. “I trust Auburn has done its due diligence throughout the hiring process. I was disappointed in the actions of Coach Pearl that led to his suspension and ultimate dismissal, but he will soon complete the requirements of his NCAA penalties. I have every expectation that he has learned his lesson and will run Auburn’s basketball program in accordance with these expectations.”
Pearl said he’s learned from what happened and owned up to his mistakes.
“It’s been a long three years being away from the game, and one of the things that I wanted to tell you as a coach and even as a father is when I made mistakes that I made at Tennessee, I let a lot of people down,” Pearl said during his press conference. “… I still walk around in pain.”
But he added later that he believes in accountability, telling the truth, learning from mistakes and teaching, even joking that he wanted to teach an ethics class at Auburn.
“One of the best ways we can continue to operate is by being accountable,” he said.
Mike Szvetitz is the Sports Editor for the Opelika-Auburn News.