Bruce Pearl lands $14.7 million deal


AUBURN, Ala. -- New Auburn Tigers coach Bruce Pearl wasted no time making an impression -- and some bold promises.

The former Tennessee coach sprung for pizza for several hundred students Tuesday a few hours after arriving in town, some of whom took selfies posing next to him. He then told a couple thousand fans at Auburn Arena: "We will play for championships."

"We're fixing to get Auburn into that position where we'll be going to the NCAA tournament," he said, adding that he wanted to be the winningest coach in program history.

Athletic director Jay Jacobs landed his top target with a 6-year deal starting at $2.2 million annually, less than a week after firing Tony Barbee.

"Jay talked about raising the bar in men's basketball," Pearl said. "Have you seen the contract I signed yet? When you see the number -- he raised the bar in men's basketball.

"I'm just keeping it real, OK?"

Pearl will receive a $100,000 raise each year, bringing the value of the deal to $14.7 million, and will owe Auburn $5 million if he leaves in the next two years, Jacobs said.

It makes the $2,100 tab for pizza easy to swallow.

Before stepping away from the podium, he proclaimed: "I'm baack."

Auburn fans then sang "Happy Birthday" to Pearl, who turned 54 on Tuesday and suggested they celebrate at the NCAA tournament next year.

The Tigers turned to Pearl to revive a struggling basketball program that hasn't made that field since 2003, causing quite a splash in a football-mad state.

Pearl remains under a show-cause penalty from the NCAA barring him from recruiting until Aug. 23. Auburn has 30 days to accept or contest the penalty, and Jacobs said the school hasn't decided how to handle that yet.

Pearl had plenty of success on the court, taking Tennessee to the NCAA tournament in each of his six seasons before getting fired in March 2011 in the wake of an NCAA investigation.

Jacobs, who first spoke to Pearl at the ESPN studio where Pearl had been working last Friday night, said he believes he "has learned from his mistake." Pearl repeatedly talked about getting this second chance, and said he had heard from "a few schools" but was prepared to have to wait until after the show-cause expired to land a job.

"I would not have gone this year had I not felt this was the right opportunity," Pearl said. "I was prepared to not coach this year."

Pearl was greeted by 100-plus fans when he landed at the airport in Auburn. He jumped into a mosh pit of fans.

"I want this same reception when we come back with an SEC championship," he told them. Pearl charmed them again with football coach Gus Malzahn and two assistants -- Tony Jones and son Steven Pearl -- watching from the front row.

Jacobs said with the move "we have raised the bar for Auburn basketball." He addressed the off-the-court issues in an open letter posted on the school's Web site and again later, saying he wouldn't have hired Pearl if he didn't think the coach was remorseful.

"After looking at the case and talking to Coach Pearl face to face, I am convinced without a doubt that he has learned from his mistake," Jacobs wrote.

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