By Frank Gale
The University of Tennessee was able to close the books on the Cuonzo Martin era of Vol basketball earlier this week when they hired Donnie Tyndall to lead their program. Athletic Director Dave Hart, who conducted the search and the hiring on his own, appears to have found the right coach for this team at the right time.
Coach Tyndall found his way to Knoxville after making numerous stops at all levels of college basketball during his coaching career. He has called this a destination job, not unlike his counterpart coaching the football Vols that hails from the same part of Michigan. Seems that Butch Jones and Donnie Tyndall grew up about a 100 miles apart. Perhaps that explains why their styles are somewhat similar.
The new head Vol will be the polar opposite of Coach Martin and more in tune to what the fans loved in Bruce Pearl, when he first arrived on Rocky Top. Tyndall rebuilt two programs at his last two stops (Morehead State and Southern Mississippi) and did so rather quickly with young players. That should be welcome news to Vol fans with most of the productive players from this year's team gone.
There have been some midweek reports of impending defections from some of the four recruits who signed earlier last fall. Trying to keep this recruiting class together might prove to be a difficult task for Coach Tyndall. He also has to "recruit" the returning players to stay in the program which is crucial to keeping the Vols competitive next year. With a few unused scholarships, he might be able to sign a late qualifier or a transfer that can provide some immediate help and depth. All are fairly normal problems associated with coaching changes.
The fans that missed the days of the Vols playing an up-tempo brand of basketball should be pleased with Coach Tyndall's offense. He has stated that next year's team will press from opening tip to the final buzzer. His defense will resemble the match up zone that Louisville uses and an offense that is patterned after Kansas. Pretty elite company to mimic and it will be hard for SEC opponents to prepare for. The returning players will find that their conditioning program just became more intense.
Over the years, Coach Tyndall has been known as a player's coach. He has also been able to win over the fan base at his previous stops, including the student body. That all sounds great after watching the enthusiasm and support from UT students wane in recent years.
I have no doubt that Coach Tyndall will work day and night to have this program competing at the highest levels. He has a great track record of recruiting and is familiar with the SEC landscape thanks to a stint as an assistant coach at LSU in his earlier coaching days.
One plus is that this coach actually wanted to come here and if he is to be believed, wants to stay around more than a few years. If this program is ever going to "Rise to the Top," stability has to be a main priority. Judging from the buyout amount in the first several years of the contract ( $3 million ), Dave Hart wants this coach to stay around for awhile.
Fans will need some patience for the upcoming season as the rebuilding project gets into full swing. While the cupboard isn't completely bare, it is not overly stocked at all the positions either. Having said that, nothing will surprise me this coming basketball season if the returning players buy into the new system and the newcomers can contribute. A tall order but, like I have been saying, you just have to believe.
It is time for the Big Orange Nation to unite, especially with the promise of some real exciting times on the horizon. Legendary-retired Lake Tansi golf pro Aubrey King has already climbed aboard the Tyndall Bandwagon. He says that anyone coming from Southern Mississippi to Tennessee just has to be successful! Go Vols and Lady Vols!!!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)