Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl held back tears of joy when a reporter asked him about his relationship with ex-Auburn assistant coach and newly hired Florida head coach on Wednesday in Moutainbrook for SEC Basketball Media Day.
“There are certain topics I get talking about that I get emotional about, like all of a sudden turning a light switch on,” Pearl said. “I get a little Dick Vermeil in me. When you mention Todd Golden, it almost immediately begins to trigger like if you ask me about my son, Steven.”
Golden spent three seasons as the head coach at San Francisco and earned a bit to the NCAA before getting hired by Florida this offseason to replace Mike White. The 36-year-old started as an assistant coach with the Dons in 2016 and replaced Kyle Smith for the 2019 season.
Pearl hired Golden in 2014 as director of basketball operations. Golden stayed in the role for two seasons before elevating to assistant coach.
“I was fortunate enough to be with him when he first got the job at Auburn,” Golden said. “Transparently, we had a lot of work to do in regards to recruiting and building up the program. Seeing his work ethic and how he led the group was inspiring. I’ve always really respected how hard he can get his players to play for him and for the program.”
Auburn hosts Florida on December 28th and Neville Arena. It’ll be a bittersweet reunion between mentor and mentee on the hardwood.
“I’m kind of looking forward to competing against him, to be honest. I think it’s going to be really fun. We’re both really, really big-time competitors,” Golden said. “We love each other off the floor, but once we get in between the lines, it’s going to be a great competition.”
Florida with returning All-SEC preseason first-team big man Colin Castleton was picked to finish seventh in the conference by media. Auburn was selected fourth by the reporters. Auburn and Florida split their home-and-home series last season. This year the games will take on a special meaning for Pearl.
“It’s emotional. I love Todd. I love him like a son,” Pearl said. I am so proud of him for the coach that he has become, the father that he is, and the man that he is. So glad that he’s in the league. I think our league did a great job this year hiring some incredible, young, talented, up-and-coming coaches, and it’ll be all — he’ll be all I can handle as far as what they do and how they do it.”
Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.