DAPHNE, Alabama -- “War Eagle!” came the shout from the stage at the 2019 Campaign Kick Off Luncheon, held Thursday, Sept. 5 at the Daphne Civic Center.
When the shout was reciprocated by many of the Auburn faithful in attendance, Tigers men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl responded, “I don’t have a speech. That was it.”
But he didn’t stop there, talking, of course, about the Tigers’ historic Final Four run, which ended in a 63-62 loss to Virginia when Cavalier senior Kyle Guy sank three free throws with under one second to play.
But Pearl also talked about his faith in God, how that has been an integral part of shaping the lives of young men, and making a difference in the community, which is what the United Way – and its 31 member agencies – is all about.
“I was asked to speak here today because I am the men’s basketball coach at Auburn University,” he said. “I agreed to speak here today because I am a father.”
As a father and as a coach, Pearl said, part of his responsibility is to build a bridge to give those young people an opportunity to have success, not only on the basketball court, but also in life.
“I consider myself to be a conservative,” he said, “but I also believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to better themselves. Our responsibility as coaches is to build that bridge, but what if that bridge wasn’t there? A huge part of what United Way does is to build that bridge so those young people have those opportunities that would otherwise not be afforded to them.”
Pearl said he welcomed the opportunity to serve as a motivational speaker.
“We use motivational speakers for our team on occasion, but I must confess that we don’t use them as often as some other coaches,” he said. “We have the FCA in our locker room and a big part of what we do for motivation is that we ask our players one simple question, ‘What would God want you to do in this situation?’
“God would want you to work hard and give your best effort, on the court and in the classroom. For me, that’s motivation enough.”
That question was never more at the forefront than following that final contest of the 2018-19 campaign.
“People have asked me all the time, ‘How do you deal with that type of loss?’” Pearl said. Not only did the Tigers lose on a last-second foul beyond the arc, many commentators would also pick up on a double-dribble no-call that would have effectively ended the game without that final shot.
“It was tough, let me tell you. There were a lot of tears in that locker room,” he said. “And I’m not going to lie, I may have had a few choice words for the referees after the game. But fortunately for me, it’s a long walk from the court to the locker room and I’m here to tell you, God was talking to me the entire way.
“He was telling me, ‘You’re a leader and you have to lead by example.’ We dealt with it the same way we dealt with everything else that came our way last season. We dealt with it as a team. We won as a team and we accepted defeat as a team. That’s what it’s all about.”
Pearl said, the team concept applies to organizations like the United Way and all of its supporters.
“I admit that I’m preaching to the choir here,” he said. “All you have to do is to keep doing what you’re doing.”
Pearl also said he enjoyed coming to the Gulf Coast, a trip he and his family have made close to a dozen times since coming to Auburn in 2014.
“I don’t think I have to tell you, but you have a jewel right here in Baldwin County,” he said. “When I came to Auburn it didn’t take us long to figure out how close we are to the beaches. We’ve been to 30A, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and let me tell you, you can keep 30A, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have some of the best beaches around and we’ll be back, you can guarantee it.”
Pearl said he will be back in the Mobile-area when his team plays the University of South Alabama Nov. 12 at the Mitchell Center on the USA campus.
“If I am called, I am always willing to serve,” he said. “If you call me, I will be here.”