AUBURN, Ala. — After firing Tony Barbee following Auburn's loss in the opening round of the SEC tournament on March 12, athletic director Jay Jacobs wasted no time.
He already had his sights set on who he wanted as Auburn's next men's basketball coach. That man was Bruce Pearl, who had been out of the game — though not away from it — for three years. Six successful seasons at Tennessee meant little for Pearl three years ago. After the NCAA found he had committed multiple violations, the Volunteers decided to cut ties with Pearl in March 2011.
To make things more difficult for Pearl's coaching future, the NCAA also gave him a three-year show cause penalty, which stemmed from lying to investigators about impermissible contact he had with high school recruits at his home in 2008.
Since the show cause penalty, which essentially meant a school would have to explain to the NCAA why Pearl should be hired, was placed upon him, Pearl had mostly been off the coaching radar, joining ESPN as a college basketball analyst in June 2012.
Despite the scrutiny the hiring of Pearl might bring, Jacobs was undeterred.
He flew up to Bristol, Conn., last Friday to meet with Pearl once he got finished with his in-studio duties at ESPN's headquarters. The full-court press recruitment of his services impressed the coach.
"He came after me so hard I'm not sure if I want to work for him or hire him to go out and recruit," Pearl said. " He wasn't taking 'no' for an answer and I didn't give him a 'no' at all."
Instead, Pearl went home to discuss things with his family.
It didn't take them long to reach a decision.
"I wasn't home more than five minutes before Brandy (Pearl, his wife) and the kids said, 'Would you just call (Jacobs) and sign that contract? We are going to Auburn,'" Pearl recalled at his introductory press conference Tuesday night.
Before Pearl had even set foot in Auburn, though, Jacobs made sure to clear the air with some of his key constituents: donors to the school.
He sent out an email detailing why he settled on Pearl. He brought up the coach's "passion," "energy" and the shared mentality that it was time to make Auburn a winning program. But he didn't avoid the elephant in the room, either, as he touched on the way Pearl's time at Tennessee ended.
Jacobs was convinced "without a doubt" that Pearl has learned from his past transgressions.
"I've thought about this a great deal, and obviously so has Coach Pearl. I believe people who are genuine and sincere deserve second chances," Jacobs wrote. "If I did not believe Coach Pearl's apologies were sincere and heartfelt, I would not have even considered him. I believe his apology was heartfelt and his remorse is real. I believe people deserve a chance for redemption when they admit their mistakes, and that is why I hired him."
Jacobs also had an advantage in vetting Pearl's background: the NCAA's lead investigator into the Tennessee violations was Dave Didion, who now serves as Auburn's associate athletic director for compliance. Jacobs consulted with Didion prior to offering Pearl the job.
That's when the NCAA's former director of enforcement gave it the go-ahead.
"If Dave had said there's no way, with your values and the culture you've established here, that you can bring him in here, I would have never called Bruce," Jacobs told reporters Tuesday night. "When I asked Dave Didion, I said, 'Would you hire Bruce Pearl?' He said, 'Absolutely.'"
One of the most powerful people in college athletics also weighed in on Pearl's return: SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
"Our institutions understand the expectations their coaches must meet in terms of compliance with NCAA and SEC rules," Slive said in a statement Tuesday. "I trust Auburn has done its due diligence throughout the hiring process. I was disappointed in the actions of Coach Pearl that led to his suspension and ultimate dismissal, but he will soon complete the requirements of his NCAA penalties. I have every expectation that he has learned his lesson and will run Auburn's basketball program in accordance with these expectations."
And Pearl is doing his best to show he's contrite. Even though he and Auburn have 30 days to contest the remainder of his show cause penalty — which runs until Aug. 23 — Pearl said he won't do so. Instead, he'll accept the limitations.
"(The school and the NCAA) are having discussions right now about what I can and what I can't do," he said. "I'll follow them closely. But it's not going to be a situation where it's going to prohibit us from recruiting. Student-athlete welfare will be taken into account. But we're going to serve this suspension as they see it needing to be served."
Pearl has been humbled by the experience. In his opening statement at Tuesday's introductory press conference, he freely spoke of how difficult things have been for him the past three years, knowing how he disappointed so many. From his family to his team and others at Tennessee, he failed to live up to their expectations due to bad decision-making.
"I still walk around in pain," he said.
But if the Massachusetts native has learned one thing during his time in the Southeast, it's that the region is filled with forgiving people.
Because of Jacobs' resolve, he has a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his critics.
"I have found this part of the country to be a part of the country that offers grace," he said. "But for the grace of God, I would not be standing here today as your next men's basketball coach."