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Sixteen months ago Auburn’s football coach was Gene Chizik and its basketball coach was Tony Barbee.
This was the worst combo of head coaches in the SEC, and one of the worst tandems in the entire nation.
Fast forward 16 months and everything has changed — Auburn now has Gus Malzahn installed in football and today they added Bruce Pearl in basketball. In just sixteen months Auburn has gone from having two of the worst head coaches in college athletics to having the best. Think about what a wild transition this is for an athletic program. Jay Jacobs has gone from being booed after hiring Gene Chizik to putting together the best coaching tandem in college athletics.
If athletic directors could win the Heisman trophy for a year’s performance, Jay Jacobs would be the unanimous selection this year.
What a total whirlwind, from one of the worst coaching combos in the country to the best in just sixteen months.
Pearl will win big at Auburn because the SEC is so awful at basketball. He immediately becomes, at worst, the third best coach in the conference. (And you can argue, as I would, that Pearl is second only to BIlly Donovan). Given that Auburn employs the lead investigator who gave Bruce Pearl a three-year show cause, expect for Pearl and Auburn to appear before the NCAA and seek a lifting of his penalties that run until August. Expect the NCAA to acquiesce and expect uniformly positive national media reaction to this hire for two reasons: 1. Pearl was vastly overpenalized for a minor transgression and 2. the media, like most college basketball fans, love Bruce Pearl.
The SEC badly needs Pearl back in the conference too. You think Pearl’s attempt to resuscitate a dead Auburn program might play well on the new SEC Network? Mike Slive and company desperately need for SEC basketball to be relevant national programming. Love him or hate him, Pearl makes great television.
Meanwhile pity poor Tennessee, the most snakebit program in major college athletics ever since Phil Fulmer was fired. Basically, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong with Tennessee athletics. I halfway expect for Butch Jones to get electrocuted using his microphone during spring practice. If General Neyland came back to life tomorrow, Mississippi State would find a way to hire him as football coach while Tennessee somehow found a way to rehire Derek Dooley.
Here’s Tennessee in the six years with Bruce Pearl:
145-61, with six NCAA tournament appearances.
Here’s Tennessee in the seven years without Bruce Pearl coaching — the four before he was hired and the three after he left.
121-99, with one play-in game as an 11 seed against Iowa.
If Tennessee loses to Iowa tomorrow, the day after Auburn hires Bruce Pearl, be glad you don’t have to check athletic director Dave Hart’s email. It will be nasty, not as nasty as when Bruce Pearl comes to Knoxville coaching Auburn and gets a standing ovation from Vol fans, but close.
But this isn’t really a story about Tennessee’s collapse, it’s about Auburn’s miraculous rise over the past 16 months, from the depths of Gene Chizik and Tony Barbee despair, to a new athletics dawn.
Now that Pearl and Malzahn are both at Auburn, who else can even compete with Auburn for the best football and basketball coaches in the country?
Ohio State has a great duo with Urban Meyer and Thad Matta. You can make a strong argument for the Buckeye duo. Michigan State is rolling with Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo. You could also consider Coach K and David Cutcliffe at Duke as well as Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino at Louisville. But all of these tandems came together over a decade or more. None of them were put together in 16 months. Other than these five tandems? There isn’t anyone even close to the Malzahn and Pearl combination in college athletics. This doesn’t even consider the incredibly exciting brand of football and basketball both bring to the table. Who doesn’t love watching Malzahn with his sweater-vest and turtle neck fist pumping after touchdowns and Pearl sweating like a mad man as he gesticulates like a crazy sideline maestro. Plus, considering what both Malzahn and Pearl have already accomplished — and are likely to accomplish in the future — I’d take Malzahn and Pearl as the best coaching duo in college athletics over the other four combinations I laid out here.
Sixteen months ago what odds would you have given me on Auburn pulling off this seismic change in coach ranking, from one of the worst combinations in the country to one of the best? Hell, this makes the kick six against Alabama seem downright likely.
How good is to be an Auburn Tiger fan right now?
One of my buddies just texted me and said, “You should just become an Auburn fan for the next 5-10 years.”
It’s good advice.
Everyone in college athletics is looking up to the Auburn Tigers.
War damn eagle, indeed.