Bruce Pearl is all business right now, as his Auburn Tigers are vying for their first-ever Final Four appearance in Sunday’s Elite 8 matchup with Kentucky (2:20 p.m. EST, CBS). He’s taken out Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks and Roy William’s North Carolina Tar Heels in consecutive games.
A win over John Calipari and the Wildcats will give him 3 straight wins over blue-blood programs and coaches. Could it earn him a look at baby blue-blooded UCLA?
Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman, who is tracking the search to see if Houston’s Kelvin Sampson takes the job, points Pearl out as an interesting darkhorse option.
Now that’s interesting. Auburn took a flier on the scandal-stained Pearl and has been rewarded big-time. These are troubled times for college basketball, and hiring a coach with a checkered past won’t be looked on kindly at a place like UCLA, but what if the Bruins are desperate?
Stacy Mickles of FanBuzz points out the NCAA baggage that comes with Pearl.
Pearl got in trouble a few years ago about having a cookout with some recruits, and he then lied about it to the NCAA. He also had two assistant coaches get in trouble with the NCAA as well, which is surely a red flag for any school looking at him, but he may be worth a shot.
Specifically, that recruit was Ohio State guard Aaron Craft. The lie led to an 8-game suspension, and further violations led to his firing at Tennessee in 2011 (just 3 days after a 30-point loss to Michigan in the first round of March Madness).
While UCLA long was seen as “winning the right way” under legendary coach John Wooden, shady recruiting is not beneath Bruins basketball. Chris Dufresne of the LA Times profiled Sam Gilbert, the infamous booster that provided illegal funds to several UCLA All-Americans during the 60s and 70s.
“There were two people I listened to,” former UCLA star Lucius Allen once told The Times. “Coach Wooden as long as we were between the lines. Outside the court — Sam Gilbert.”
Wooden was wary of Gilbert but generally turned a blind eye.
“Maybe I had tunnel vision,” Wooden once said. “I still don’t think he’s had any great impact on the basketball program.”
As far as public UCLA targets go, the only one at this time is former NBA coach and UCLA alum Earl Watson. ESPN insider Jordan Schultz reported that Watson has interviewed for the job and plans to bring longtime coach Larry Brown in as an assistant.
Parts of the UCLA fanbase are incredibly displeased. Joe Piechowski of SB Nation’s Bruins Nation says Watson is absolutely unqualified.
Now, if this is true, it’s incredibly disappointing news to hear regarding the search for a new basketball head coach.
To put it simply, Earl Watson has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as a head coach to merit being interviewed for the UCLA head coaching gig. Period. End of story.
You want more? Sure.
Watson’s record as a head coach is 33 wins and 85 losses over parts of three NBA seasons. That’s a total of 118 games as a head coach. He coached 33 games in 2015-16 after taking over for Jeff Hornicek. He coached a full 82-game season in 2016-17. Then, he lasted all of three games in 2017-18.
It seems the college basketball world is pointing to successful coaches like Sampson and Pearl to fill the UCLA gig. The Bruins, on the other hand, may be thinking in terms of nepotism with Watson.