David Climer / The Tennessean
New Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall did the right thing when he released the four signees he inherited.
But it's going to hurt.
Tyndall runs the risk of bringing a butter knife into the sword fight of an SEC schedule. Even though the recruiting class compiled by Cuonzo Martin lacked big names, it would have provided across-the-board depth that Tennessee desperately needs.
The Vols are short on bodies and talent. Only eight scholarship players remain, and one of them, Quinton Chievous, had planned to transfer but now says he will see how offseason workouts go before deciding whether to remain at Tennessee for his junior season.
Those leaving the program are taking a bulk of this season's stats with them. The Vols have lost 72 percent of their scoring and 64 percent of their rebounding off a team that made a Sweet 16 run.
Even so, Tyndall recognizes that trying to strong-arm players into sticking with UT when they want to explore other options is counterproductive. If a player wants out because of a coaching change, he should have that opportunity.
"We want players that want to be at Tennessee," he said.
Tyndall saw this coming. While he said at his introductory press conference he expected the four signees "to buy in," he knew there probably would be attrition. It comes with the turf during a coaching transition.
"I was hopeful that all four signees would end up coming to our school, but on the flip side, it usually doesn't happen that way, let's be honest," he said, adding "not anything that's happened to this point has caught me off guard."
It's convenient to say basketball players commit to a school and a program, but that's simply not the case. Most of the time, players choose a particular school because of the head coach and/or his assistants. If that coaching staff leaves — as was the case when Martin took the job at Cal — the bond is broken.
Salvage jobs are nothing new to Tyndall. When he replaced Kyle Macy as coach at Morehead State, he took over a program that had gone 4-23 the previous season. A roster purge left him with only three returning scholarship players. Three years later, he had Morehead in the NCAA Tournament.
Of the four players Tyndall released from letters of intent, he has a reasonable shot at re-recruiting Philip Cofer, a 6-foot-8 power forward. Cofer's parents are UT grads. His father, Mike Cofer, played defensive end for the Vols in 1979-82 and was a captain his senior year.
Otherwise, Tyndall is searching for quick fixes, particularly from junior colleges. One possibility is Kevin Punter, a guard from State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo. Punter previously made a commitment to Missouri but is reconsidering things in the aftermath of Frank Haith's move to Tulsa.
It is natural for Tyndall to look to junior college for help. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Iowa Central Community College and has recruited junior-college players throughout his head coaching career. At Southern Miss, nine of the 14 players he signed were from junior colleges.
Moving forward, however, such reliance on junior-college players just doesn't work in the SEC. It's fine to bring in a junior-college player every couple of years to fill a position of need, but Tyndall will succeed or fail based on recruiting players out of high school and developing them.
But don't look for Tyndall to sign players just to fill a spot on the roster.
"If we don't feel like a young man can 100 percent fit in to how we play, then we will just hold the scholarship until the next class."
Tyndall said he expected some "bumps in the road" when he took the job. He's taking it one pothole at a time.