Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl is refusing to cooperate in the school’s internal investigation into his program, and university officials have advised him that that his job is in jeopardy if he doesn’t, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.
Auburn officials retained a law firm to conduct an internal investigation after former Tigers associate head coach Chuck Person was arrested on Sept. 26 as part of the FBI’s probe into college basketball corruption. Person was indicted on six federal charges by a grand jury in New York on Tuesday.
Sources told ESPN that Pearl has refused to talk to attorneys conducting the university’s investigation, and they’ve been yet unable to determine if Pearl was involved in NCAA violations or other wrongdoing because FBI agents seized his computers and cell phones as part of their investigation.
Auburn officials haven’t given Pearl a deadline to cooperate, but sources told ESPN that a decision on his future will be made in the next week or two.
Chuck Person, Emanuel “Book” Richardson, Tony Bland and Lamont Evans were among the eight people indicted Tuesday in New York City. Each is facing multiple federal charges in connection with the college basketball corruption case.
Pearl, a former ESPN analyst, is set to begin his fourth season as Auburn’s coach. The Tigers open the regular season against Norfolk State at home on Friday.
Auburn hired Pearl in March 2014, about five months before his NCAA show-cause penalty for violations committed at Tennessee was scheduled to expire. The Volunteers fired Pearl in 2011 after he lied to NCAA investigators about the recruitment of prospect Aaron Craft, who ultimately signed with Ohio State. The NCAA punished Pearl with a three-year show cause, which prohibited him from having contact with recruits during that time.
At the time of Pearl’s hiring, Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said he believed Pearl “has learned from his mistakes.”
“I’ve thought about this a great deal, and obviously so has Coach Pearl,” Jacobs said at the time. “I believe people who are genuine and sincere deserve second chances. If I did not believe Coach Pearl’s apologies were sincere and heartfelt, I would not have even considered him.”
Jacobs announced last week that he’ll step down as Auburn’s athletics director on June 1, 2018. After inheriting a program that hadn’t appeared in the NCAA tournament since the 2002-03 season, Pearl hasn’t had much success. The Tigers are 44-54 overall during his tenure, have never finished better than 11th in the SEC and didn’t play in the postseason in each of his three seasons.
Pearl has an overall coaching record of 506-199 during a 23-year career, which also included stops at Southern Indiana and Milwaukee.
Person, who is Auburn’s all-time leading scorer and earned the moniker “The Rifleman” during his NBA career, was among 10 men arrested on Sept. 26 as part of the FBI probe. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York accused Person and the others of using bribes to influence star players’ choice of schools, shoe sponsors, agents and financial planners.
A federal complaint released on Sept. 26 alleged that Person received $91,500 in bribes from former NBA referee Rashan Michel and others, and that Person allegedly gave $18,500 to the parents of two previously unidentified players. The school said that Person is no longer employed by the athletics department.
Auburn announced last week that it was keeping basketball players Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley out of games indefinitely in an attempt to “avoid any potential eligibility issues.”
“We are involved in an ongoing investigation to certify the eligibility of players,” Pearl told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. “It’s ongoing. I can’t comment any further on it.”
On the day Person was arrested, Auburn president Steven Leath told ESPN that someone with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York told him that the university itself was not the target of the FBI’s investigation.
“I think it says clearly that they don’t think there’s some structural problem or some broader problem at the university, that this was an isolated individual,” Leath said. “I don’t think anybody else knew. I don’t think there’s any indication at Auburn that anybody else knew about this.”
Attorneys from Lightfoot, Franklin & White also were retained in August to conduct an investigation of Auburn’s softball program, specifically whether former assistant coach Corey Myers engaged in inappropriate behavior with players. Corey Myers resigned on March 30.
The law firm is also investigating whether a former part-time employee in the athletics department’s academic services department took a final exam for a former football player, and the firm’s lawyers are defending Jacobs, Auburn’s board of trustees and other athletics department employees in a federal lawsuit filed by former baseball coach Sunny Golloway, who alleges that he was unjustly fired in September 2015 and is owed a $1 million buyout.
Last month, former Auburn track and field assistant coach Adrian Ghioroaie sued the board of trustees and assistant head track coach Henry Rolle in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, alleging he was wrongfully fired and that Rolle physically assaulted him.