Christmas has come and gone, which means college basketball will enter conference play soon. While many across the country have enjoyed major non-conference matchups, Southerners are still in a football coma.
Until I mention the name Bruce Pearl.
Even the most casual SEC basketball fan knows Pearl’s credentials. The former Tennessee coach is still serving a suspension levied by the NCAA after he lied to them about a recruiting function. His show cause lasts until August of 2014, but this fact has not stopped many from wondering where he will land next.
The recent struggles of Alabama basketball have sparked fan interest in Pearl, but would he be a good fit?
Absolutely he would.
Pearl’s enthusiasm for the game, and his ability to market the sport – something which is sorely needed in the SEC – would re-energize a fanbase that is craving relevancy.
Remember the 1980s, when Wimp Sanderson roamed the sidelines in Tuscaloosa? His big personality, along with some very good players, filled Coleman Coliseum on a regular basis.
Mark Gottfried accomplished the same task in the early 2000s. Alabama has great basketball tradition (the 2nd most wins in SEC history behind Kentucky), and it has been proven fans will show up to see a winning product.
You may counter by saying Anthony Grant has won a lot of games in his four-plus years. And you are correct. However, one NCAA Tournament appearance in five years is simply not good enough.
Pearl not only took Tennessee to the big dance perennially, but he was also successful at UW-Milwaukee, where he beat Gottfried’s Bama squad in 2005 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Winning translates into recruiting, and Pearl’s reach nationally can bring top prospects to Tuscaloosa. Currently, Alabama recruits within a small radius, and when talent is down in Alabama and Mississippi, that makes the job that much harder. Since he is a household name nationally, Pearl can help widen Alabama’s recruiting base.
You may also argue that the issues with the NCAA are a red flag. I would argue to the contrary. Pearl has been contrite in every interview. On several occasions, he has expressed that the lessons he has learned will make him a better coach the next time around. Any program he runs going forward will be squeaky clean.
Now, will he come? That remains to be seen. There is still over half of the season left for Alabama. A good finish, a highly touted recruiting class, and a large buyout on Grant’s contract, may make this entire conversation moot. Pearl may not even be interested.
It’s fun to talk about, though. Bruce Pearl has that effect.