KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is counting on Southern Mississippi’s Donnie Tyndall to make the same solid transition from the mid-major ranks as the Volunteers’ last two basketball coaches.
Tyndall was introduced Tuesday to replace Cuonzo Martin, who went 63-41 in three seasons at Tennessee before California hired him on April 15. Martin led Tennessee to a 23-14 record and an NCAA regional semifinal appearance this season.
“I’m humbled to be your coach,” Tyndall said. “I think Tennessee is a special, special place.”
The 43-year-old Tyndall went 56-17 with a pair of NIT appearances in two seasons at Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles finished 29-7, tied a school record for victories in a season and reached the NIT quarterfinals this year.
Tyndall called Tennessee a place where “you can compete to go to the Final Four and compete to win a national championship.”
Tennessee has plucked its last two coaches from mid-major programs. Martin came to Tennessee in 2011 after three seasons at Missouri State. Martin was preceded by Bruce Pearl, who arrived at Tennessee from Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Pearl and Martin helped Tennessee reach regional semifinals in four of the last eight years.
During a news conference announcing Martin’s departure on April 15, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said he was looking for a coach with a proven track record but didn’t rule out the possibility of hiring a “rising star.” Tyndall fits the profile of a “rising star” because of his lack of major-conference head coaching experience, but he also has a history of NCAA tournament success.
“I’m happy to tell you that Donnie Tyndall fits the profile perfectly,” Hart said.
Before coaching at Southern Mississippi, Tyndall went 114-85 with two NCAA tournament appearances in six seasons at Morehead State. His career highlight came in 2011 when he guided Morehead State to an NCAA tournament upset of Louisville.
Tyndall’s best Morehead State teams featured Kenneth Faried, a first-round draft pick who plays for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.
Tyndall faces some immediate challenges in his new job
Tennessee loses four of its top five scorers from this year’s team. Josh Richardson, who will be a senior guard, is the only returning player who made over 10 starts this season.
Tyndall also must unite a fan base that was divided for much of this season between Martin supporters and Pearl backers. Although Martin averaged 21 wins a season at Tennessee, some fans started an online petition to bring back Pearl when the team struggled early this season.
Tennessee rallied and won eight of nine games before falling 73-71 to Michigan in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
Pearl led the Vols to NCAA tournament appearances in each of his six seasons before getting fired in 2011 amid an NCAA investigation. Pearl was hired at Auburn last month.
“We’ve got to put that behind us,” Tyndall said. “It’s got to start today. We’ve all got to rally and get on the same bus, if you will. We’re all Tennesee Vol fans. We all bleed orange. We all want our team, our young guys to do well. Put all that stuff behind us and go to work.”
Tyndall’s teams have won at least 24 games four of the last five seasons. He had agreed to terms on a new four-year contract with Southern Mississippi in January.
Tyndall also had plenty of success at Morehead State, which had gone 4-23 the year before he took over the program.
“Donnie Tyndall pulled himself up from his bootstraps,” Hart said. “He knew what he wanted to be. He wanted to be a basketball coach. He knew ultimately where he wanted to coach — in the Southeastern Conference. And he knew the tradition and history of the University of Tennessee.”
While Tyndall was at Morehead State, the program was placed on probation for two years in August 2010 because of violations related to booster activity. The school’s self-imposed penalties included the loss of one scholarship and other recruiting restrictions.
Tyndall has experience and in the Southeastern Conference and coaching in the state of Tennessee. He was an assistant at LSU from 1997-2001 and at Middle Tennessee from 2002-06.
Tyndall was born in Grand Rapids, Mich. He played at Iowa Central Community College from 1989-90 and at Morehead State from 1990-93.
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