KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s coaching position had just become available when Donnie Tyndall received a text message urging him to pursue the job.
This particular message did not come from Tyndall’s agent. It instead was from his 11-year-old daughter, Grace Elizabeth. Her note said in all capital letters that “THE TENNESSEE JOB IS OPEN. HINT, HINT.”
“Certainly this is a job that was on my radar - and Gracie’s too,” Tyndall said Tuesday at his introductory press conference as Tennessee’s coach.
Tyndall agreed to a six-year contract worth $1.6 million per year to replace Cuonzo Martin, who went 63-41 in three seasons at Tennessee before California hired him on April 15.
The 43-year-old Tyndall went 56-17 with a pair of NIT appearances in two seasons at Southern Mississippi. Before going to Southern Mississippi, Tyndall was 114-85 with two NCAA tournament appearances in six seasons at Morehead State, which had gone 4-23 the year before his arrival. His 2011 Morehead State team upset Louisville in the NCAA tournament.
Tyndall called Tennessee a place where “you can compete to go to the Final Four and you can compete to win a national championship. And that’s my plan.”
”Tennessee, to me, is a destination job,” Tyndall said.
The hire of Tyndall continues Tennessee’s recent tradition of selecting 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 four regional semifinals in the last eight years.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart praised Tyndall’s boundless energy and winning history. Hart said Tyndall’s traits reminded him of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones. Tyndall and Jones grew up about an hour away from each other. Tyndall was born in Grand Rapids, Mich. Jones is from Saugatuck, Mich.
Tyndall also has experience coaching in the Southeastern Conference and in the state of Tennessee. He was an assistant at LSU from 1997-2001 and at Middle Tennessee from 2002-06.
“Donnie Tyndall fits the profile perfectly,” Hart said.
Tyndall faces some immediate challenges.
Tennessee loses four of its top five scorers from the team that went 23-14 and reached a regional semifinal 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 year at Tennessee, some disgruntled fans started an online petition to bring back Pearl when the team struggled early this season.
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 all have to rally and get on the same bus, if you will. We’re all Tennessee Vol fans. We all bleed orange. We all want our team, our young guys to do well. So let’s start today. Let’s pull this thing together, put all that stuff behind us and go to work.”
Tyndall said he planned to use the same aggressive, attacking style of basketball that helped his teams win at least 24 games four of the last five seasons, including a 29-7 mark this year. Tyndall had agreed to terms with Southern Mississippi on a new four-year contract worth $500,000 annually in January. He owes Southern Mississippi $500,000 under the terms of his buyout.
Tyndall said he intends to bring his entire Southern Mississippi staff with him to Tennessee.
“He made a heck of an impact in two years,” Southern Mississippi athletic director Bill McGillis said. “He’s a fabulous coach. He’s a wonderful person and he just did a marvelous job. We wish him and his staff well.”
Hart called Tyndall a “grinder” for the way he worked his way toward this opportunity after starting his coaching career at the junior-college level.
“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. Hart said he reviewed the situation “very thoroughly” and had no concerns about it moving forward.
“I don’t shy away from responsibility,” Tyndall said. “I learned from it, I grew from it and I certainly never expect to go through it again.”