Wiedmer: Auburn’s Pearl and YellaWood a perfect fit

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl speaks during a news conference on Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Yep, Auburn has officially become a college basketball school. These words are written after learning Monday morning that Tigers head hoops coach Bruce Pearl will serve as the honorary starter for Sunday's YellaWood 500 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race at Talladega Superspeedway.

What, no love for current AU football boss Bryan Harsin, who proved his Tigers were just a wee bit better -- or at least luckier -- than Missouri's version of the striped cat on Saturday?

What about former AU coach Tommy Tuberville, now a United States senator from the Heart of Dixie? If Pearl's become more popular than Tuberville in War Eagle Country -- and Tommy Trumper thumped incumbent Doug Jones two years ago by 20 percentage points -- that can't bode well for Harsin going forward.

Especially since the only thing a lot of Alabamians care more about than NASCAR is football.

Then again, maybe Tuberville has better things to do, such as secretly lobbying for Harsin's job. Head football coaches in the Southeastern Conference make a good deal more than U.S. Senators. In fact, almost every full-time assistant coach in the SEC probably makes more than Tuberville, given that the junior senator's salary this past year was reportedly $174,000.

Of course, Tuberville almost certainly has more job security as a Trump Republican from the Deep South than any SEC football coach does save Bama's Nick Saban. Heck, the way things are going politically in most Red States, men of Tommy Trumper's political lean have close to tenure. A little money that goes a long way might ultimately be better than a big payday axed in a year or two, which is where the second-year coach Harsin appears to be going. At least a few oddsmakers see him getting pink-slipped around October 22, which is the Tigers' bye week, dead between Ole Miss and Arkansas.

But back to Pearl, who's probably become the most beloved coach of any sport on the Plains since football boss Pat Dye.

And why not? He took the Tigers to their first-ever Final Four in 2019 and had them ranked No. 1 for a time a season ago. Other than the Final Four part, it's exactly the same kind of magic he worked at Tennessee for a time before NCAA issues caught up with him, forcing UT to fire him. A similar round of NCAA paper cuts with the Tigers has him being named the honorary starter at Talladega. Ah, priorities.

Still, it is pretty cool to see a basketball coach rise to such heights in football country, especially at football crazy Auburn.

"I am super excited to wave the green flag to start the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway," Pearl, a Boston, Mass. native, told the Associated Press. "I can't wait to see the speed of the cars, plus see how the race teams will strategize to get a 'W.' I am thankful to the YellaWood team for giving me this opportunity."

Want to know the difference in how basketball success and football success are viewed by most SEC fans outside the Commonwealth of Kentucky?

Pearl never finished higher than 11th in the 14-team SEC during his first three seasons with the Tigers. NCAA wrongs under his watch left the school ineligible for tournament play at the close of his seventh season on the job. Think ANY football coach at Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU or Tennessee would even see a fourth season if they finished in the bottom third of the league over their first three years of employment?

Harsin's in his second year and almost assuredly won't see a third. There are rumors that Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz, who lost to Harsin on Saturday, might not be far behind. Nebraska's Scott Frost didn't make it to a fourth game this year. Neither did Arizona State's Herm Edwards. The grace period shrinks yearly, if not daily.

It's no longer in the SEC, but look at what Georgia Tech did on Monday, firing both football coach Geoff Collins (barely into his fourth season), and Yellow Jackets athletic director Todd Stansbury, presumably because he failed to fire Collins after last year.

So this is where we are when it comes to FBS football. At a mediocre to poor school, you might get three full years to begin to turn it around. Might. At a football rich school such as Auburn, you could be gone in less than two, though Harsin is still employed at the moment and getting rid of him now will cost Auburn more than $11 million.

A little more than a decade ago, when he was coaching Texas Tech, Tuberville told a university-owned magazine that his interests included "NASCAR, golf, football, hunting and fishing, (and) America's military," plus a fondness for country and western music.

No wonder he got 60 percent of the vote against Jones.

But when it comes to Sunday's YellaWood 500, Pearl has his own bit of mojo. For as you may or may not remember, Bruce Almighty's broken NCAA rules everywhere he's ever been -- Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Tennessee and Auburn. And as the old NASCAR saying goes, "If you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin.'"

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.