The College of Charleston will meet Coach Bruce Pearl on the court for the first time in seven years on Friday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

Dating back to 2009, the Cougars have a 1-1 record against Pearl-coached teams, with their most recent match-up coming in 2010 when CofC beat Pearl’s Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.

There are a few reasons the Cougars haven’t seen much of Pearl lately: Maybe it’s because former Coach Bobby Cremins is no longer personally penciling in top-shelf match-ups or maybe it’s because the College just isn’t matched with SEC opponents often.


But it also might be because a few months after CofC last saw Coach Pearl, Tennessee fired him for lying to the NCAA.

Pearl’s departure from Tennessee reportedly boiled down to how he responded to questions over pictures showing a recruit at a cookout at Pearl’s home. Pearl says he was panicked when he claimed ignorance when initially asked about the photos and that he quickly tried to walk back his answers.

Regardless, as NCAA investigators zeroed-in, Pearl was canned after a blowout loss to Michigan capped his worst season at Tennessee which included a Vols loss to Cremins’ Cougars. That summer, the league would slap Pearl with three years of sanctions that effectively banned him from coaching, alleging that he asked the recruit’s father to lie to investigators.

In a retrospective of Pearl’s tumultuous career to that point, Deadspin writer Daniel Libit opined that, “a college basketball coach is not permitted to be, at least not simultaneously: a crook and a loser.”


Fast-forward to 2014, Pearl was an ESPN commentator finishing his sanctions and Auburn came calling. That March, they hired him to be head coach.

Heading into his fourth season at Auburn last fall, Pearl’s record sat under .500 with just 44 wins in three years. Allegations of bribes and violations again dogged his staff. In November, the week before the Tigers opened the season, anonymous sources were telling ESPN that Pearl’s job could be in jeopardy over cooperation with an investigation that now included the FBI.

Loser? Check. Crook? In Pearl’s words, “we’re working through the process.”

In the weeks following, after Auburn fired the assistant coach who was indicted on federal bribery and fraud charges related to Tiger players, the school also suspended two low-ranking members of the coaching staff and two players allegedly tied up in the hoopla were suspended indefinitely. The school even offered to refund season tickets in light of the upheaval. In January, one of the suspended players was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Pearl has never been charged or directly implicated in the current investigation.


Possible bribes and fraud off the court aside, on the court the Tigers have gone on a tear this season, winning 25 games on the way to the SEC championship and the team’s first NCAA berth since 2003. At best, observers say the Tigers are “outperforming expectations” and at worst finding themselves “awkwardly successful” as the specter of investigations loom.

So as Pearl battles back from his career-worst season as a head coach in 2015 to having one of his career’s best this season, the calls for his head have died down.

Loser? Nope. The answer to the second question may not matter.

The College of Charleston Cougars play Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament from San Diego. Tip-off is at 7:27 p.m. EDT on TruTV.

Correction: The initial version of this story included an incorrect timeline of events related to CofC’s most-recent victory over Tennessee.

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