published Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Wiedmer: UT's Donnie Tyndall making all the right moves

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    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.

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    A sellout crowd walks to their tables Monday at the Big Orange Caravan dinner at The Chattanoogan.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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New Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall insists his team is not yet up to agreeing to play a home-and-home series with UT-Chattanooga.

In town for Monday's Big Orange Caravan stop at The Chattanoogan hotel, Tyndall said of a possible future series with UTC, "Maybe down the road, but we're not there yet."

But he fondly recalls his interactions as a Morehead State player with former UTC assistant coach Bill Gleason, who died too soon in 2004.

"He was an assistant for two years when I was at Morehead," the 43-year-old coach said. "When [head coach] Dick Fick came in, he wanted to run everybody off. But I wouldn't quit. I didn't have anywhere else to go. So every day during practice Coach Gleason would walk by and say, 'Keep your head up. You'll get through this.' And I did."

Those words could pretty much become Tyndall's slogan to UT players: Keep your head up. We'll get through this.

Despite having former coach Cuonzo Martin's entire four-man recruiting class receive releases from their scholarships and two returning players abandon ship after Martin took the California job, the tenacious Tyndall somehow has cobbled together no worse than a 12-man team for next year, assuming rising sophomore point guard Darius Thompson returns.

"Our goals and aspirations are certainly different than what I tell you guys [the media]," he said with a grin. "I hope we'll be the most overachieving team in the country. I hope we'll outwork and out-tough peple. But I also hope our fans will be understanding."

One of those fans is former Volunteers player Dane Bradshaw, whom Tyndall met Monday for the first time.

"He told me he'd given my book ('Vertical Leap: Inside the Rise of Tennessee Basketball') to one of his players at Morehead and told him he needed to play like me," Bradshaw said. "I guess he was trying to find guys who couldn't shoot free throws but could improve the team GPA."

Yet Bradshaw already has seen traits in Tenn-dall, oops, Tyndall that make the former player believe the new coach can mirror the outrageous success enjoyed by Dane's former UT coach: Bruce Pearl.

"I love the fact that he's won at multiple places (Morehead State and Southern Miss)," he said. "And the productivity and efficiency he's shown in recruiting in a short amount of time is unbelievable. Plus, he's done it in a way that will keep a lot of scholarships open down the road. He's been able to get guys who can play now but won't hurt his recruiting classes later on."

And just as the late, great Gleason had an impact on Tyndall the player, current UTC head coach Will Wade's reputation as a tireless, relentless recruiter has made an impression on Tyndall the coach.

"I like to think I've got three young assistants just like Will," he said. "They're all there from 6:30 in the morning until 11 o'clock at night. And I'm right there with them. Sometimes we're calling about players until 2 in the morning, turning over every rock. We're trying to beat out Top 5, Top 10 programs to get these young men to our campus."

It's tough to argue with his results at previous stops. After going 12-18 his first year at Morehead, Tyndall never had another losing season and won a total of 69 games with two NCAA tourney berths during his third, fourth and fifth years. He averaged 28 wins a season for his two years at Southern Miss.

But he's never had anywhere close to the recruiting advantages he has at UT.

"When we did the [caravan stop] in Memphis, we got on a plane and were back in Knoxville in 45 minutes or so," said Bob Kessling, the Voice of the Vols. "Donnie was amazed. He kept saying, 'I'd have been in a car for four and a half hours if this had been Southern Miss.' He's just so appreciative of the resources we have here. At UT, he can just coach basketball."

Nobody gets to do nothing but coach anymore, of course. There are fundraisers such as the caravan. There are meet-and-greets and summer camps and, of course, recruiting.

All of which brings us to UT football coach Butch Jones's assessment of Tyndall after hanging with him on the caravan tour.

"Oh, I love him," Jones said. "Donnie's got a great sense of humor. He's always laughing."

Jones paused, then added, "There is one thing, though. He's got to learn to put that phone of his on vibration or something. It rings nonstop."

If those calls are from kids turning their backs on Top 5 and Top 10 programs to sign with the Vols, Tyndall just might become UT's first Tyn-ured basketball coach.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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