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Bruce Pearl wants everyone to know he’s a candidate for the Louisville job

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Which means he probably isn’t.

Kentucky v Auburn Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Louisville men’s basketball head coaching job hasn’t even been open for 24 hours, and we already have our first “candidate” making public non-denial denials and leaking stories of mutual interest.

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl has been one of the names on the tip of the tongue of the average forward-thinking Louisville fan for weeks. On the morning after U of L’s mutual parting of ways with Chris Mack, Pearl just so happened to make an appearance on ESPN Radio’s “Keyshawn, JWill & Max Show.”

Naturally, he got asked “the question.”

Shortly after that classic coach-speak non-denial denial, a story was posted from Auburn Live’s Justin Hokanson, who reported that Louisville had reached out to Pearl in some capacity. He went on to speculate that Pearl would only leave AU for another gig if his demand negotiations “aren’t handled correctly.”

It’s important to note here that Hokanson is the Auburn reporter who is the closest to Pearl. He’s the guy Pearl goes to when he wants something to be known by the public ... something like one of the top college basketball programs in the country being interested in his services.

Pearl wasn’t the one with the leverage when Auburn hired him. That’s going to be the dynamic when you become the first coach in college basketball history hired while still under the cloud of a show-cause penalty from your last gig. But after a trip to the Final Four in 2019, a smooth escape from underneath the cloud of the NCAA, and being at the head of the current No. 1 team in the country, that dynamic has changed. The leverage is now fully on the side of the man who has made all of these things happen, and that man is ready to flex.

Hell, even the headline here — “COMMENTARY: Bruce Pearl, staff are wanted, Auburn administration must take action” — makes this all sound more like a call to arms than a report.

Attention to the Auburn powers that be: if you don’t do what Bruce wants, you might be sorry.

So why would Pearl want all this out there on Jan. 27 instead of late February or early March, a time much closer to the moment when Louisville would be able to start having serious talks with potential candidates and would be within shouting distance of making a hire?

The answer is probably three-fold.

1) Time is of the essence here. Multiple coaches will undoubtedly try to leverage the Louisville opening into a raise from their current employer. When that’s the case, it’s better to have your name “out there” before anyone else.

2) Auburn is a legit national title contender. If this is going to be a distraction for your team (and stuff like this always is), let it be a distraction for a couple of days in late January as opposed to when your team is fully in the midst of its postseason push.

3) Let’s take a look at the agenda for the next meeting of the Auburn University Board of Trustees, which is scheduled for Feb. 4:

Item B. 3. is a vote on the approval for a new men’s team only practice gym at Auburn Arena, a facilities upgrade Pearl has been pushing for.

Just a shot in the dark, but I’m going to go ahead and predict that the project is going to be approved by the board. I’ll follow that prediction up with another one: Pearl — whose current contract is set to expire at the end of the 2023-24 season — is about to get a raise.

UPDATE:

Record time. Props to both Bruce and AU on their expediency here.

UPDATE II:

Annnnnd FIN.