In an impromptu press conference called last week to announce former Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin was taking the California-Berkley job, athletic director Dave Hart admitted that the Volunteers were late in the hiring process. With the Final Four already passed and the signing period closing fast, time was of the essence.
"We will move as quickly as we can, as quickly as we reasonably can to get a replacement on board. To what the timetable is, is often times difficult to nail down," Hart said last Tuesday. "But we will immediately get in now to that search process."
A week later, the search is over.
Southern Miss head coach Donnie Tyndall has been hired as the Tennessee Volunteers’ next head basketball coach, the school officially announced Tuesday morning. The 43-year-old’s contract will reportedly be worth six years and $1.6 million annually.
When offered the job, Tyndall had just one question for Hart: "When do I start?"
We're proud to announce that Donnie Tyndall will be introduced as Tennessee's 19th head coach today at 2 p.m. ET! pic.twitter.com/VSbKGLFinf
Added Hart on his second high-profile coaching hire, one that comes on the heels of filling the football job with Butch Jones: "Donnie Tyndall fits the profile perfectly. We needed to hire somebody who was a winner, somebody that had a track record of success. Coach Tyndall has won everywhere he’s been at every level he’s coached. … If you look all the leagues he coached in and look where his teams finished, you’ll see a lot of (Nos.) 1s and 2s."
Tyndall is riding two 25-plus win seasons in Hattiesburg (including 29 wins in 2014, though the Golden Eagles missed the NCAA Tournament) where he built upon the success of Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy. Behind Eustachy and Tyndall, Southern Miss has posted five straight 20-win seasons.
"There’s been opportunities in the past and I was very, very happy at Southern Miss. … The two-year run there was the best two-year run in program history, so I felt like I had some security," Tyndall said. "But on the flip side, this is the University of Tennessee. You can compete for a Final Four and you can compete for a national championship, and that’s my plan."
That type of success will be expected in Knoxville.
Despite leading the Volunteers to their first Sweet 16 since 2010 this past March, Martin faced controversy in the middle of the 2013-14 season as his team struggled in SEC play, even leading a significant portion of the Tennessee fanbase — 30,000-plus fans — to sign a petition to fire the newly-minted Cal coach and hire former headman Bruce Pearl. With Martin at Cal and Pearl at Auburn, that opened the door for Tyndall.
Tennessee was also reportedly in talks with Louisiana Tech coach Michael White to fill the position, but when those talks fell through it appears Tyndall was high on its list.
"Some of you, I’m sure, have heard that rumor that maybe I was the second choice for this job. And I don’t know. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. Roy Williams was like the 10th choice at Kansas and it worked out pretty well for him. But I’ll say this: Look at (my future wife, Nikki) and look at me. I probably wasn’t her first choice either," Tyndall joked. "But I will say this: I think it proves I’m pretty darn good recruiter."
Tyndall comes with experience in the SEC as an assistant under former LSU Tigers coach John Brady as well as a familiarity with the state of Tennessee — he served as an associate coach at Middle Tennessee State from 2002 to 2006 — and given his coaching success at both Southern Miss and Morehead State, the fit seems to be a natural one for both parties.
"Tennessee, to me, is a destination job. It’s in the best league, in my opinion, in the country, and I know that’s gonna vary year to year. But arguably it’s one of the best conferences in the country year in and year out," Tyndall said. "It’s a place that I think is my network, recruiting-wise, in the Southeast, where the states I’ve recruited for 15 years. I have the network and the relationships to get quality players every year."
When discussing the job following Martin’s departure, Hart, as any logical athletic director, ran down the list of why this position is a nationally-renowned opening. Tyndall was one of the top "mid-major" coaching names on the board, so it’s an understandable leap.
Tyndall, who becomes the 19th basketball in Tennessee’s program history, will not inherit an easy situation — considering the fallout of the Martin departure plus losing the team’s two top players, Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes, Tyndall has his work cut out for him in the immediate future — but other than Florida and Kentucky, the SEC is a wide-open power conference practically every single season. He’ll be expected to take advantage early and often.