Let the rumors swirl, but here's why Bruce Pearl to Louisville wouldn't make sense
It makes perfect sense why the connection was made.
On Tuesday, we found out that Chris Mack and Louisville are reportedly set to part ways after a bizarre 4-year run as the Cardinals head coach. Pretty soon after those reports surfaced, Bruce Pearl was trending on Twitter.
To be fair, part of the reason Pearl might’ve been trending was the fact that just a day after earning Auburn’s first No. 1 ranking in program history, it squeaked out a nail-biter against a struggling Mizzou squad. But if you searched Pearl’s name on Tuesday night, you saw dots being connected all over the place between the historically successful program and the coach of that first-time No. 1 team.
Source tells me, if Chris Mack is gone as Louisville’s coach, here’s some names of interest:
Not saying there’s interest from Louisville, but I’m told Pearl “wants it badly.”
Payne also strong interest.
— Dominique Yates (@RealDYates) January 25, 2022
People who say “why would Bruce Pearl leave Auburn when he has them #1 to go to Louisville?” are the same who asked why Cal would leave Memphis for Kentucky.
Some jobs like UK, UNC, etc just mean more. Does Pearl think UL is one of them?
I do, but we will see if Pearl agrees
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 26, 2022
For what it’s worth, Jones does fine work and even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of his opinions, I don’t think he ever shoots from the hip with this stuff.
But is this really a fair comp? On the surface, perhaps. If you dig a little deeper, not so much.
If you’re going to poach a coach, you need a definitive reason why the grass is greener. Let’s look beyond the fact that Louisville has 1 vacated national title in the past 35 years. According to the NCAA, Louisville and Auburn have the same amount of national titles in that stretch.
Speaking of that vacated title, Louisville continues to be a mess. It currently has an interim athletic director (Josh Heird) and it doesn’t have a university president after Neeli Bendapudi left to take the same job at Penn State. Something tells me that any Louisville pitch (made by who exactly?) to Pearl’s party will look a bit different than this not-so-flattering reality of NCAA sanctions in the future:
Overview: At Louisville, upheaval continues. Fans disengaging from football, AD perhaps departing, NCAA circling and sources saying university intent on handling it with minimal athletic input, and Chris Mack’s future is very much in doubt if the NCAA returns Level 2 sanctions.
— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) December 6, 2021
Because who doesn’t love the words “potential sanctions” attached to a job description?
Pearl just got through his own version of that at Auburn. In December, we found out that Pearl would receive a 2-game suspension as a result of an NCAA infractions case involving former Auburn assistants receiving bribes for setting up players with specific financial advisors. That was after Auburn self-imposed a 1-year postseason ban in 2020-21. The Tigers also got 4 years of probation. But the good news? No additional postseason ban was added by the NCAA.
Here was Pearl’s statement following that announcement in December (H/T CBS Sports):
“I’m appreciative of Auburn University, our leadership, the AU family and our current and former student-athletes as we navigated through the challenges of the last four years. We respect the NCAA peer evaluation process and appreciate the panel recognized we took meaningful and contemporaneous penalties. It is time to put this behind us.”
And to Auburn’s credit, it did just that. That is “put this behind” them.
Pearl is coaching the No. 1 team in the country. The last time his team was allowed to compete in the NCAA Tournament, it was a blown double-dribble call from earning a trip to the title game. The 2021-22 Auburn team, led by 5-star additions Jabari Smith (freshman) and Walker Kessler (transfer from UNC), might just make a little more history.
But whether that happens or not, it’s clear that Pearl bounced back from the NCAA investigation and got Auburn to a special place. A sellout crowd on Saturday for the showdown against Kentucky with get-in prices around $350 would debunk any belief that Auburn “will always just be a football school.” And in case you forgot, Pearl made essentially the same money (about $4 million) as Mack did at Louisville.
Obviously, Louisville wouldn’t pursue someone as highly regarded as Pearl without sweetening the deal in a major way. But how much sweeter could that deal be, especially in the event that Louisville pays a good chunk of Mack’s $12 million buyout? Are we talking John Calipari money at $8 million a year? My guess is that it’s probably not in the cards to double the basketball coach’s contract at Louisville.
Let’s get back to that Calipari comp. When he left Memphis for Kentucky, he was 50 years old. And when did Calipari leave Memphis? A few months after the university received its notice of allegations for a fraudulent SAT score from Memphis star and former No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose. The notice of allegations went public in May … 2 months after Calipari accepted the job to become Kentucky’s coach.
That timing is a touch different than Pearl, who will be 62 years old when the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament kicks off. What does Pearl have to escape? And if Pearl did want to leave for a big-time job, which would’ve absolutely been possible in the last 4 years, don’t you think he would’ve bolted when Auburn received word that NCAA sanctions were on the way?
Also, he’s not coaching in Conference USA like Calipari was. Pearl isn’t in his 40s like Chris Beard, who left Texas Tech for a richer, bigger program like Texas. This isn’t Porter Moser, who left the Missouri Valley Conference to become Oklahoma’s head coach.
This is Pearl, who spent the past 8 years turning Auburn into a basketball-crazed school that sells out every game:
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) January 22, 2022
That fan base worships Pearl, and understandably so. While the football program has been getting annual reminders that it isn’t on the level of Alabama and Georgia, Pearl is attempting to win either the conference regular season title or the conference tournament title for the third time in 5 years. A school that pays a football coach $23 million to go away after a winning SEC season won’t spare any expense when it comes to keeping Pearl.
Unless the Northeast native has some long-standing desire to coach in the ACC, it’s hard to envision a world in which Pearl would leave Auburn for Louisville. Maybe this would be a different story if we were talking about Duke or UNC.
We’re not, though. It’s Louisville, which appears to be a shell of its former self.
And Auburn, well, it’s anything but that right now.