published Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Big Orange Caravan: New UT coach Donnie Tyndal says Butch Jones 'fantastic' in helping him

New Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall answers questions from the media at the Big Orange Caravan appearance at The Chattanoogan in this file photo.
New Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall answers questions from the media at the Big Orange Caravan appearance at The Chattanoogan in this file photo.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

This spring's Big Orange Caravan circuit is the second one for Butch Jones.

Compared to Donnie Tyndall, though, Tennessee's football coach is a veteran of the annual fan meet-and-great speaking tour for the Volunteers' most high-profile coaches.

Tyndall is Tennessee's new basketball coach, hired less than a month ago from Southern Mississippi, and he's had his football counterpart helping him in the transition to his new job.

"Coach Jones has been fantastic," Tyndall said before the Caravan stopped at The Chattanoogan hotel Monday night. "He's spent a bunch of time with me, probably too much time. I know how busy he is, but he's a guy that's really went out of his way to make me feel comfortable and give me some pointers and ideas.

"He and I went out for dinner the other night till about 1 in the morning, just talking. He's been unbelievably helpful and a great friend thus far. I wish I could help him as much as he's helped me."

  • photo
    Vols football coach Butch Jones signs a model train boxcar for 10-year-old Caelan McCullen during Monday's Big Orange Caravan sellout at The Chattanoogan. McCullen wanted to give it to her grandfather, Carl Fairchilds.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Jones was in Tyndall's shoes just a year ago, having to sell a rebuilding job to a sold-out crowd of Tennessee fans starving for an enthusiastic, relatable winner.

After adding seven new players in the weeks since his hiring, Tyndall has improved what once looked like a very bleak outlook for the basketball Vols next season, and that, along with his successful track record at previous stops and his reputation as a blue-collar grinder, likely earned him the standing ovation he received from the roughly 400 in attendance Monday night.

Tyndall told a group of media before the event that he still was trying to find his way in a whirlwind start to his tenure, and he was almost giddy to share that his fiancee, Nikki, had secured a July closing date on a home in Knoxville.

He's had Jones, a fellow Michigan native, to help him learn the ropes.

"One of the biggest things is telling him where to eat within Knoxville," Jones joked. "I've given him the lay of the land in terms of restaurants. It's been great spending time with him and talking philosophy, talking about developing toughness, mental conditioning and really getting to know him not just as a coach, but as a person.

"We've really kind of hit it off, so I look forward to really growing and elevating our relationship."

Jones said he's spent some of the offseason studying basketball coaches, a branch of his fascination with how coaches in any and every sport handle their teams. It's included learning how friend and Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra handles a team of superstars and traveling to NCAA tournament games to study coaches' body languages on the sideline.

If Jones can pick up any pointers or tips from other coaches in "how they manage people," he'll use them, and now with Tyndall he can share and compare ideas and talk shop.

"On the car ride down here, we're talking about command of timeouts and what you're doing from diagramming last-second plays," Jones said. "How many times do you practice them throughout the course of a season [or] managing the mental aspect of you lose a game or you win a game, getting your team focused to play the next day or two."

Jones believes there are coaching parallels between football and basketball, and there certainly are parallels between him and Tyndall.

In his second season, Jones will trot out one of the youngest teams in college football with entirely new offensive and defensive lines against one of the nation's most daunting schedules.

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    A "Sold Out" sign in the lobby of The Chattanoogan informs patrons of the Big Orange Caravan on Monday.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

"I think people can feel the positive energy surrounding our football program," he said. "Really, being on the Caravans and getting around our great fans, they've really been realistic. I think they're excited to be going through the building process with us, with the influx of young talent coming and really developing this football team."

For Tyndall, it's building off a Sweet 16 run with a patchwork roster constructed in late April and early May, when pickings are slim and coaching staffs sometimes have to get creative in finding quality players.

"[What] I'm going to tell my team our goals and aspirations are certainly is different from what I'm going to talk to you guys about," he said. "I don't want to put a ceiling on our team this year or any year, but as late as we got the job, four, maybe five returning players -- certainly we hope that our fans will be understanding and patient.

"What I want to really try to get our fans to do this year is help us be the most overachieving team in college basketball. That's going to be our goal. I don't want to say that to undersell our talent level or undersell our players, but we need to overachieve this year to have a great year, and our fans need to help us do that."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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