There’s no denying the fact that Bruce Pearl has his work cut out for him at Auburn, where he’s been handed the keys to a program that has struggled mightily in recent years. But with the hiring of Pearl, who was highly successful at Tennessee before NCAA sanctions led to his dismissal, fans, administrators and former players are optimistic about the future.
One of those former players is Charles Barkley, who after three seasons at Auburn left as one of the greatest players in school history. During the men’s basketball reunion on Friday, Barkley expressed his approval of the hire made by athletic director Jay Jacobs.
What was also learned during that reunion was the fact that Pearl has held onto a voicemail left by Barkley nearly a decade ago, noting that it continues to serve as a source of motivation for him.
On the message, which lasted roughly 10-12 seconds, were the kind of words of encouragement that still provide Pearl an emotional lift to this day:
“Bruce Pearl, this is Charles Barkley, you do not need to call me back. I’ve just been watching your teams play and I love the way you coach and I love the way your teams play.”
“I have it on an old cell phone,” Pearl said Friday evening from the Auburn Men’s Basketball Reunion at the Moore’s Mill Club in Auburn. “And there were times when we get down on ourselves (as coaches) and we lose confidence in what we do, and I’ve listened to that message a time or two. I’d never met him, I didn’t call him back because he said don’t call me back, but I kept that message.”
Much tends to be made about the players a new coach can bring in, and Pearl’s staff has gotten off to a solid start recruiting-wise with his show-cause not coming to its conclusion until late August. However it’s also important for the new head coach to establish a connection with the past, especially when it comes to the players who helped the program achieve success.
That’s the value of events such as Friday’s reunion, and if Auburn is to make the climb back to respectability and earn NCAA tournament bids the players of the past can help Pearl as he looks to sell his program to recruits and a fan base hungry for a winner.