Today the Auburn University athletic department announced they’d hired Bruce Pearl as the school’s new men’s basketball coach. Pearl, a former Maccabi USA coach, is a founding member of the Jewish Coaches Association, which hosts an annual bagel brunch during the NCAA Final Four tournament (you can read former Scroll editor Marc Tracy’s charming dispatch from the 2012 event here).
“We are a minority,” Pearl said of the group at the time. “We really are a minority, as it relates to coaching and to some of the natural challenges of recruiting.”
The recruiting challenges he was likely referring to were very much his own: Pearl had just been suspended from his position as head coach of the University of Tennessee Volunteers (he would later be fired) over NCAA recruitment violations—namely, lying about the secondary violation of hosting a high school player at his home during a time in which he wasn’t supposed to contact recruits, thereby making it a major violation.
The embattled Pearl continued to have defenders throughout the very public ordeal, many of them from within the Jewish community. Pearl was not only a great coach but a real mensch, Tracy insisted as the charges were first coming to light, pointing out that he gave freely of his time to Jewish charities and causes at the university and in Nashville. The coach’s misdeeds, Tracy later wrote, “had as much to do with the NCAA’s schtick as his own behavior.”
Pearl, currently waiting out the final months of his NCAA penalty, has been given a second chance at Auburn. According to the announcement, the university “feels like it’s well-equipped to take on a coach with Pearl’s history.” Hopefully Auburn fans agree.
Related: Grand Rabbinate of the NCAA
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.