Donnie Knoxville: A Tale of Meh
The University of Tennessee yesterday hired the former Southern Miss basket coach, Donnie Tyndall. Tyndall comes to Rocky Top with a career 200 wins and is coming off of back to back 25 plus win seasons. However, you will have to forgive the fans of the university for not jumping up and down with joy.
The whole thing started last Tuesday when Cuonzo Martin bolted the hill for bluer skies of Berkeley, California after what was a tumultuous yet very successful third season at the University. A sluggish start to the season, a petition, and a Sweet 16 run created a perfect vortex for hard feelings and an untimely exit for Martin and a third coach in four years for the Tennessee BasketVollers.
Enter Dave Hart and his team to bring the best into the University of Tennessee. The man they thought was the best for the position was none other than Donnie Tyndall. 200 wins and a couple NIT appearances is enough for the search to end. They have their guy.
This is not to say that this hire was not without challenges. A history of winning, an involved fan base, continuity, and a recruiting base are things that are important to potential coaches. Tennessee only has a recent history of winning and basketball fans whose interest ebb and flow like the tide. Continuity is definitely a problem as well as a local recruiting base.
However, there is a history of winning now, short though it may be, and the fans have shown that they can be every bit as involved as the powerhouses when they see a quality product in front of them. The goal for Pearl was continuity and a misguided barbecue ended that. Martin never gained the full support of the fan base and much of that was his less amiable personality than Pearl. Recruiting is tough, but a coach is only three hours from the hotbed of Atlanta and six from the even better Memphis area.
There was opportunity for Hart to sell the program, but the university went with the "up and coming" rock star. This has been a model for the Tennessee athletic department in the past with guys like Pearl, Martin, and Jones. However, with a fan base that was in the top 5 for attendance two years ago with a losing football team and a basketball team that missed the tournament, this feels less like a school taking a chance on an up and comer and more like the Rockefellers shopping at Target.
This is not a knock on Tyndall. He has a history of winning and should be awarded the opportunity to try and do that on the next level. He may enjoy tremendous success at the top level and the Tennessee athletic department may prove to be vindicated in their hire, but at a certain point the athletic department needs to learn that Lane Kiffin is the anomaly and the flashy hire can bring you success. Being gun shy to spend money will only get you so far before people begin to question your willingness to take a chance. Last checked, nothing ventured still means nothing gained.