So, how did Auburn get so good in basketball? How did Alabama get to the point that the Crimson Tide is reportedly negotiating to pay one of the all-time nice guys, Avery Johnson, as much as $8 million to leave campus and not coach its basketball team?
Go back to 2014. That's where it went wrong for Alabama and right for Auburn.
An aggressive Auburn administration fired underperforming coach Tony Barbee immediately after the season and went after Bruce Pearl. The Tigers signed him to a six-year deal, then sat back and watched him go to work.
He turned Wisconsin-Milwaukee into a mid-major basketball power. He did the same at Tennessee, which had only sporadic success before Pearl arrived. He put together the best six-year stretch in school history.
Why not Auburn? Why couldn't he do the same for the Tigers, who won big occasionally but never could sustain it?
This guy didn't even play high school basketball, much less in college, but he turned himself into a successful coach. And, in 2014, he didn't have a job.
Even if Auburn hadn't been ready to fire Barbee, if there's a guy like that on the market, you make room for him.
Now, the Tigers are in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. They have 27 wins — the most since the 1999 SEC championship squad. They won the SEC tournament — the first time since Chuck Person's 1985 team. Last year, they won the regular-season crown — only the third time in school history that's happened.
They play with effort, intensity and consistency.
Of course, Pearl came with baggage. He was fired at Tennessee in 2011 for lying to NCAA investigators. The NCAA put him under a three-year show-cause order, in which anyone hiring him could suffer penalties.
Auburn hired him in May 2014, three months before the show-cause order was up. He couldn't recruit or evaluate players, but what's three months when you're hoping a guy will be there for years?
Meanwhile, Alabama didn't make room for Pearl.
In 2014, Anthony Grant finished his fifth year as the Crimson Tide's coach, and it was clear it was no longer a good fit.
Granted, Auburn had an easier decision with Barbee, who won only 49 games in four years and appeared to give up about midway through his last season. Grant at least had taken Alabama to one NCAA tournament, where it lost to Creighton in the first round in 2012. He also won at least 20 games three times.
But in 2014, Alabama went 13-19, and Grant did himself no favors with a distant, standoffish personality. The Tide basketball program was sorely in need of change.
Still, then-athletics director Bill Battle didn't want to do it. Battle was 71 when he accepted the athletics director job and was considered a short-term bridge from Mal Moore to whomever came next.
He was reluctant to make a major decision, such as firing the men's basketball coach that somebody else had hired.
So, Auburn got Pearl, and Alabama got Grant for another year. In 2015, Alabama was 18-14. The Tide was headed back to the NIT again, huzzah!
Even then, Battle was ready to let Grant remain. It wasn't until he told trusted advisors his decision that he finally realized how much Alabama people didn't want Grant coaching their basketball team.
Battle got Avery Johnson, hoping a successful NBA coach could make the transition to college.
It didn't happen. Johnson is a good recruiter, but he has struggled to combine his NBA philosophy with the college game. His shortcomings seem magnified later in the season, including stretches where it seemed like his teams played as if they wanted to get it all over with.
In four years of SEC play, he was 19-17 in the first half of league play and 12-21 in the second half. In addition, he was 3-6 against Pearl.
Johnson did take Alabama to the NCAA tournament in 2017, but three other seasons ended with first-round NIT losses. Johnson wasn't hired to go to the NIT. The humiliating first-round home loss to Norfolk State on Wednesday, with an opposing player afterward making fun of the Tide's lack of effort, was too much to take. So was the crowd of about 2,000.
Unlike Grant, Johnson is a genuinely likeable guy, but it's time for both him and the basketball program to move on.
And, Alabama will take another crack at making up for its mistake in 2014.