Auburn coach Bruce Pearl would more likely have two scoops of different exotic flavors, with swirls and nuts, in a waffle cone, with sprinkles.
The coaches couldn’t be more different, personality-wise. They both have one big thing in common, however. They each need a victory in Saturday’s Alabama-Auburn basketball game in Tuscaloosa.
Grant’s Crimson Tide is 12-6 and 2-3 in SEC play. Pearl’s Tigers are 10-8 overall, but have an identical 2-3 conference record. Grant is in need of a win in the worst way. In his sixth season at the helm, Grant has only taken Alabama to the NCAA Tournament once. Many Alabama fans have been vocal with their feelings that Grant should have been fired after last season’s losing record.
Grant’s 2015 Tide will enter the Auburn game with an RPI of 53 and a plausible chance to make the NCAA Tournament if it can win the majority of its home games, plus pick up a few road wins, which have been elusive for Grant. Alabama did win its first road game of the season, against Tennessee, and it has played scrappy in last-second road losses to South Carolina and Arkansas. Losing to Auburn, in Tuscaloosa, would put a big stick in Grant’s spokes. Losing at home to an Auburn team with an RPI of 139 would cause the Tide’s NCAA stock to plummet, and erase what little good will still exists amongst fans.
Grant has what some have called an “even keeled” personality. He shows little emotion on the sidelines, and his interviews are succinct and absent rhetoric. Nobody would care, if he just won more games. He would be “intense” instead of “boring” and “focused” instead of “clueless.” Grant has pulled together the pieces of last year’s disaster, added some key new players, and has the Tide in a decent position. Losing to Auburn melts all of that.
Pearl doesn’t need to win tomorrow as badly as Grant. Pearl is in his first season at Auburn, and has energized his fan base. He’s hasn’t made any outrageous guarantees of Final Fours or anything, but he has said that Auburn will not be a pushover under his leadership. Who knows whether his “colorful” personality will make a difference at Auburn in the long run? But Pearl has been a consistent winner at other programs. He took Milwaukee to two NCAA Tourneys in four years, and made the Big Dance each of six seasons at Tennessee.
Today, he’s talking up the Alabama-Auburn rivalry. In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser, Pearl said he believes rivalry games are important. At Tennessee, some games, like Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Florida had a little extra meaning.
“I just know the games mattered more to our fans, they mattered more to me,” Pearl said. Now Alabama matters more to him.
“You want to win them all, but there’s no team I want to beat more than Alabama in the SEC because I’m Auburn’s coach, and that’s how I feel, that’s how our fans feel,” Pearl said. “We’re going to have a rivalry with them on the court; we’re going to have a rivalry with them in recruiting because both Coach Grant and myself are committed to recruiting the best local players in the state.”
Pearl has time on his side. His team is not as talented as Alabama, and he will have the rest of this season and the off-season to polish his act. If he is able to beat Grant on the court tomorrow, however, he’ll make a big statement to those recruits he’s talking about.
If Pearl wins, it will seem that his approach to the game is better than Grant’s. Auburn fans, and potential basketball recruits, will eat it up.
Grant needs to beat Pearl and Auburn tomorrow, and find a way into the post-season. If he can do that, his bland personality will still be palatable to most Tide fans. Winning spices up everything.