(WBIR) He wanted a proven winner, a track record, a great recruiter, and a good fit. UT Athletic Director Dave Hart said Tuesday he'd found all that and more, in new head basketball coach Donnie Tyndall.
Hart said Tyndall has boundless energy, understands the traditions and history of UT, and reminds him of another popular coach in orange- Butch Jones. The two actually grew up in towns in Michigan that are about an hour apart, and as the press conference unfolded, you couldn't help but see the similarities between the two men, in their humor, their work ethic, and their commitment to the University of Tennessee.
Hart said Tyndall was "very excitable" in their conversation, and Tyndall joked that his first question to Hart was, "When do I start?"
When Tyndall took the stage, he got a hug from Hart, and a Big Orange jersey with his name on it. Then he got down to the business of winning over Tennessee fans.
"I'm honored to be here," he said. But he didn't want to talk about himself first. He turned the attention to the team, congratulating them on a fantastic season, and said he was prideful to be their coach, before asking the crowd to give them a round of applause.
Then he also gave a nod to football coach Butch Jones, saying he was looking forward to meeting him, and hinting at a little friendly rivalry between their home towns.
He thanked his former team and administrators at Southern Mississippi, former coaches who've given him a chance through the years, and his family. His parents, former educators, were in the audience. His daughters couldn't be there. He said Taylor, 14, had a softball game and 11-year-old Grace was in a spring play.
He also introduced his fiance, Nikki, and got a few laughs by saying," You may have heard how I was second choice for this job. Look at her, and look at me. I wasn't her first choice either." Tyndall also joked that she proved he was a good recruiter.
On the job
He said he was happy at Southern Miss, and had a great experience there, but he said, "This is the University of Tennessee." He called it a destination job for him, and one he had actually had his eye on, along with his daughter Grace. He said he was at the Final Four a few weeks ago, and his daughters, who generally sit at the end of the bench during games, were with him. He got a call about a job at Tulsa, but told the girls it wasn't the right spot for him, that maybe something else would come up. When they questioned him, he brought up Tennessee, because at that time Cuonzo Martin's name was being mentioned for the Marquette job. Last week, he got a text from Grace, reading "The Tennessee job is opened. Hint Hint." So he admitted this job was on his radar. And Grace's.
He called Tennessee a special place, with great traditions, both in men's and women's basketball, saying he couldn't wait to meet Lady Vol coach emeritus, who he really admired. He said they had great facilities, a beautiful arena filled with more than 20,000 fans, and great tradition.
While he loved his time at Southern Miss, he said Tennessee is the place he can compete for national championships, and that's what he intended to do.
He also said he heard from everyone he asked that Knoxville was a great place to live.
Tyndall said he had 15 years of experience recruiting in the southeast, and already had the network set up to find the best players. He said they would be looking for the best in America, and wouldn't settle for coming in second place. He will compete relentlessly, and start in Tennessee.
"We've got a great university to sell, facilities. We should get the best players," he said.
He talked about all he learned while recruiting at schools with fewer resources. With no private planes, he said he'd done a lot of long drives to meet with players, sleeping at gas stations along the way. He called himself a grinder, and and said you had to be on that level. He's bringing all that experience to UT.
"Trust me, we'll be able to sell Tennessee just fine," he said.
On his staff
He plans to bring his entire Southern Mississippi staff to Tennessee with him, but they may not all be in the same roles. He's also talking to other people. He hopes to have his staff in place in the next 48 hours.
He said his staff would be young, aggressive, go-getters who will be able to relate to the players.
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On the fans
He said Tennessee had the best fan base in college basketball, and that players will want to come and play in front of them. He talked about their passion, and the fact that they filled all those seats at the arena.
On uniting the fan base
There's no question that Tennessee fans have been divided this season, with many supporting a return of former coach Bruce Pearl, who is now at Auburn, with a petition drive that angered players and supporters of Coach Martin, who has departed for Cal.
Tyndall praised both Pearl and Martin, but said it's time to put it behind us.
"Let's start today," he said. "Rally and get on the same bus."
He said we all want the same thing, for the team to do well, so he's ready to get to work to accomplish that.
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On the team and recruits
Tyndall met with the team when he arrived in Knoxville, and told them he looked forward to being their coach. He promised to never lie to them, though he said he might hurt their feelings. But that's how he plans to build trust and relationships with the players.
He acknowledged the challenge they faced, having lost 72% of their scoring and 69% of their rebounding to graduation and the NBA. He told the team, "Somebody has to step up." He called them a young and eager group that was ready for the challenge, and he thinks if they just "out work and out tough" other teams they would "surprise some fellows" next year.
Tyndall said he spoke with three out of the four recruits today, to put their mind at ease that he wanted them to be a part of the program. He said the conversations went well, and he planned to touch base with all of them later tonight to speak to them more and to talk to their families.
He said he had two scholarships to give, and he will look for the right guys to give them to.
He called education a top priority for his players. He said they would be in class, be on time, and get their degrees.
He also said he'd hold his team to a high standard. There will be "no thugs, no renegades. Not on my watch."
He wants young men who will be proud to wear the Tennessee uniform.
On NCAA violations
While at Morehead State, the school self-reported recruiting violations. The NCAA accepted their self-imposed penalties, and put the program on probation for two years.
Tyndall explained that a booster who was a great guy and didn't mean any harm was reaching out to players on his own. He said said he didn't ask him to do it, but took full responsibility for those actions with the NCAA. He said he learned from it, and never expected to repeat the process again.
It's been exactly a week since the University of California announced it hired UT's former coach Cuonzo Martin to replace Mike Montgomery, who retired last month after six seasons with Berkeley. Earlier this month, Martin said he was staying with the Volunteers, but later changed his mind, joining the Golden Bears as head coach.
CBS Sports' Gary Parrish first reported Monday night that Tennessee offered Tyndall the job and that he would accept.