KNOXVILLE — For the last 13 years, John Brady could count on the same phone call every year before the basketball season tipped off.
Ever since the current coach at Arkansas State hired Donnie Tyndall as an assistant coach shortly after taking the head-coaching job at LSU in 1997, Brady has received a call from Tennessee's new head coach.
Then a 26-year-old whose only coaching experience at the time came at the junior college level, Tyndall thanks Brady for giving him his first opportunity to be a Division I coach.
"Never fails," Brady told the Times Free Press via phone on Thursday. "That in a small way is what he's about on a bigger scale. He gets it, and I think the people there [at Tennessee] are going to really respond to him once they get to know him."
In the truest sense, Tyndall, the former Morehead State and Southern Mississippi head coach hired this past week to replace Cuonzo Martin with the Volunteers, has worked his way up the ladder to where he is now.
The Michigan native's parents worked in education as teachers and school principals, and his father was a superintendent. During a Thursday interview with the Times Free Press, Tyndall recalled his first job mowing lawns as a sixth-grader "for like five bucks each time" and taking care of the baseball fields at a local park.
"I've always been a worker," he said. "My family didn't have much money when I was growing up. I was always having to take on summer jobs or odd jobs to make a few bucks to make my way to camps and whatever it may be."
Not long after that, Tyndall began to realize he dreamed of a future of basketball, and he has the four-page assignment he wrote in ninth grade that details his aspirations of playing at a big-time program and the NBA and going into coaching "if that didn't work out."
After finishing his playing career at Morehead State, Tyndall took an assistant coaching job at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, where he played a season prior to enrolling at Morehead State. He spent two years there before taking the head-coaching position at St. Catharine College in Springfield, Ky., at 25.
He needed the help of Billy Donovan to land even that gig.
The current Florida coach was at Marshall after five years as an assistant at Kentucky, and he called Martha Layne Collins, the former governor of Kentucky and St. Catharine's president at the time, on Tyndall's behalf.
"Right place, right time," Tyndall recalled.
After a 30-5 season at St. Catharine, Tyndall got his break when Brady, just hired to replace Dale Brown at LSU, and Kermit Davis, a friend of Tyndall's and Middle Tennessee State's coach since 2002, visited him while recruiting one of his players.
"When I met him, I immediately liked him, and that's one great quality he has," Brady said. "If you're around Donnie Tyndall for any length of time, he's got a sincerity about him and he's got a great sense of humor. He's unassuming. He can laugh at himself. I just liked him.
"I watched him practice, his team, and I watched him coach it, and I liked his demeanor and the way he was with his players and how they responded to him."
A week after meeting him, Brady offered Tyndall a position on his staff with the Tigers.
"It was one of those things where as soon as you met someone, you connected with him and liked him and spent some more time with him and talked a lot of basketball," Brady said. "He wanted to coach at the Division I level and was looking for the right opportunity. We offered him one and he jumped on it.
"Now he's at Tennessee, and that's a heck of a rise, and that's the way it ought to be."
Tyndall spent four seasons on Brady's staff in Baton Rouge before working a year at Idaho and then joining Davis at MTSU.
When Brady took over, LSU was coming off an NCAA investigation that included heavy sanctions for violations during Brown's tenure. Though an appeal overturned a postseason ban for the 1998-99 season, the Tigers lost six scholarships over three years in addition to other recruiting limitations. LSU was 6-26 in the SEC in Brady's first two seasons.
In 2000, though, the Tigers rode Stromile Swift and Jabari Smith to the SEC's regular-season title, a 28-6 record and a Sweet 16 appearance.
"It was tough, and we had to have a collection of coaches that were resilient and focused on what we needed to do," Brady said. "We couldn't make mistakes because we had limited scholarships. We had to keep the guys that we had in order to construct a team. Every day at work, [Tyndall] was diligent. He did whatever he needed to do.
"On a consistent basis, even in a tough situation that we inherited there at LSU, he was great to be around, always positive, tremendous worker -- all the qualities on a daily basis that I knew this guy was going to go somewhere."
Tyndall led his alma mater to the NCAA tournament three years after the program went 4-23. He won a school-record 27 games at Southern Miss despite returning just four players from an NCAA tournament team. With the Vols, Tyndall, for the moment, has seven scholarship players and one returning starter heading into next season.
"He's got a quiet confidence and determination about him, too, that bodes him well in difficult situations," Brady said. "He's taking over not an easy situation at Tennessee based on what has gone on there with Bruce Pearl and Coach Martin leaving. He will wear well with time ... because of the way he is.
"I think it's a great choice, a great hire, and I'm excited for him to have the opportunity that he's got."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...