Auburn’s basketball program is now one of the best basketball programs in the SEC, and five years ago, nobody would have guessed that would be the case.
The answer is simple — Bruce Pearl.
In 2014, Pearl joined the Auburn coaching staff, overhauled the basketball program and transformed it into the best in the SEC and one of the best in the country. This seemingly impossible feat — taking over a program ran by Tony Barbee and turning it into a conference tournament title — was not an easy task.
How did he do it?
Besides his proven winning coaching style, Pearl showed that in order to turn around a stuttering program, more has to be done off the court. Pearl increased media presence and brought top-tier recruits to the University.
Pearl immediately latched on to the concept of the Auburn Family and utilized it as his best marketing tool. Pearl has a personality ripe for going viral and one that has already become entrenched in the Auburn psyche. When we swept the University of Alabama, he carried around a broom — pictures of which quickly flew around social media.
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Pearl came to Auburn and immediately joined the Auburn Family. He can often be seen around town interacting with students and families while embracing the lifestyle and southern culture of the community.
The now fifth-year head coach is not like other big name coaches.
He doesn’t sit far removed from the public — he eats at local restaurants, takes time to talk to anyone that engages him and can be found out and about in town.
Auburn’s most genial coach simply combined these factors — the Auburn Family and his large personality — to derive a cult-like following.
This has made Auburn fall in love with him and the basketball program. His down-to-earth, relatable demeanor is what makes him likable. Add in a winning basketball team, and naturally everyone has started to idolize the easy-to-love coach.
Once Pearl won Auburn’s heart, he drove up ticket sales. Even when Auburn wasn’t winning SEC Championships, students were lining up to attend games. The student section hasn’t had enough seats for students in a few seasons. Attendance has skyrocketed since Pearl has taken on head-coaching duties.
Every winning team has to have a packed student section, but the hype and the atmosphere alone don’t win games, they win over the potential recruits.
Pearl was able to transform Auburn’s incredible football fans into basketball fans, and we all know Auburn fans aren’t like the fans anywhere else.
The energy found in an Auburn cheering section is indescribable, but before Pearl, Auburn fans weren’t showing up to basketball games. Now, tickets are selling out.
A winning program doesn’t just have an increased media presence and larger cheering section, it takes talent to win on the court — talent that Pearl has managed to recruit to come to Auburn with the help of his media strategy and utilization of Auburn’s cheering section.
In five years, Pearl turned around Auburn’s basketball program from hardly deserving of a participation trophy to winning titles. It looks like Pearl’s changes are here to stay, bringing with them success for Auburn basketball in the years to come.
Auburn’s basketball team has officially outperformed the football team. Auburn’s a basketball school now.
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