ADOB: What is Bruce Pearl worth?
Spring football now is in its second week -- a spring involving an important quarterback quandary, no less -- and yet basketball is the only thing Auburn people want to discuss these days.
Isn't that something?
Yes, it's safe to say that Bruce Pearl is the most popular coach on campus. It may be safe to say that he's the most popular Auburn coach of any kind since 80s-era Pat Dye. Or any era Shug Jordan. Or maybe Pearl is beyond that level now. We know Auburn is a football school, but Pearl has become a quintessentially Auburn guy -- the hard work, the winning, the salesmanship, the showmanship, the ebullience, the respect he shows everyone.
They all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude.
That he's been a major success at Auburn is indisputable. The team is one win away from its first Elite Eight since 1986. The same team that went 3-15 in league play six seasons ago.
Pearl promised championships. Pearl has delivered championships.
Auburn loves Pearl. Athletic director Allen Greene expressed that love by fighting for Pearl (and solidifying Pearl's standing) during The Uncertain Times last spring. Greene also rolled over Pearl's deal last summer, which currently is worth approximately $2.6 million per year through 2022-23. Automatic escalators guarantee Pearl a $100,000-per-year raise throughout the contract's lifetime.
Pearl and Greene held conversations during the fall about restructuring the deal -- to make it richer and to increase the salary pool for staff. That topic receded as the 2018-19 season revved up, though it's sure to regain relevance once the Tigers' season ends.
So what will happen?
Pearl was asked about that Tuesday afternoon.
"I love Auburn," he said. "It's a great fit for me and my family."
Pressed by a reporter about the last time he'd held a conversation with Greene about his contract, Pearl pulled his proverbial cards closer to the vest.
"When the season is over, that'll be time for all of us to be focused on what's next," Pearl said.
Pearl's most interesting quality is his ability to create spectacle. This is the guy who once went topless (with chest paint covering his torso) to support the Lady Vols. This is the guy who held a cookout at an Auburn soccer game last fall as a cheeky ode to the (impermissible) cookout that got him in trouble with the NCAA at Tennessee. This is the guy who barnstorms campus during finals to offer students doughnuts, pizza, coffee, you name it.
Do you expect him to eschew spectacle now?
For his part, Greene, when contacted by AuburnSports.com Tuesday, reiterated the strong support for Pearl he voiced during an interview last month.
"Bruce and I are in great alignment over the direction of the program," Greene said Tuesday. "He wants to be here. We want him here. We'll work through it together just like we have in the past."
Can Auburn pay Pearl more? Sure. He's currently No. 6 among SEC coaches in terms of salary -- trailing Kentucky's John Calipari ($9.3 million), Tennessee's Rick Barnes ($3.2 million), Georgia's Tom Crean ($3.2 million), USC's Frank Martin ($2.9 million), Missouri's Cuonzo Martin ($2.8 million).
Recently fired Alabama coach Avery Johnson made approximately $3 million this season.
Should Auburn pay Pearl more? That's a complicated answer. Though former assistant coach Chuck Person recently agreed to plead guilty to charges stemming from the FBI bribery scandal, that case hasn't yet been adjudicated. Assistant coach Ira Bowman remains on administrative leave amid charges that he brokered improper cash payments while an assistant at Penn. That case hasn't yet been adjudicated.
Those cases aren't expected to affect Auburn negatively beyond what already has occurred, but they create some level of uncertainty that makes valuing Pearl a difficult task. He's a winner. He promotes the Auburn brand better than anyone else. Yet there are questions. More questions.
The Tigers were wise to hire Pearl when they did. He was still serving his show-cause at the time -- a deal-breaker for most suitors -- but Auburn viewed that as a risk worth taking. He very much appreciated Auburn taking the risk. It's been a partnership flush with symbiosis from its first day, make no mistake about it.
It'll soon be time for Pearl, who just turned 59, to decide if this will be his final stop.
And it may soon be time for Auburn to decide how dedicated it is to making sure Pearl never leaves.