KNOXVILLE - Tennessee now has its new basketball coach in place, and Donnie Tyndall's tenure began with some fallout that often comes with coaching changes.
One day after the hiring Southern Mississippi's Tyndall, the Volunteers saw their incoming signing class shrink.
Signees Larry Austin and Jordan Cornish requested and were granted releases from their National Letter of Intent with Tennessee on Wednesday, and the two players now are looking for their next destination.
Cornish's mother confirmed her son, a 6-foot-6 swingman from New Orleans had been granted his release, shortly after Austin, the point guard from Illinois, received his, and a Tennessee spokesman confirmed to the Times Free Press later Tuesday afternoon that Tyndall had granted both releases.
VolQuest.com reported C.J. Turman, the 6-foot-9 forward from Georgia, intended to ask for his release. When reached by phone on Wednesday evening, Charlemagne Gibbons, Turman's coach at Morgan County, declined to comment on his player's decision and indicated they still needed to speak with Tennessee. Turman did not respond to a text message.
That leaves Phil Cofer, the athletic 6-foot-8 forward out of Georgia who's the son of a former Tennessee linebacker. He did not return a phone call from the Times Free Press.
All four players signed in the fall for departed coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff.
Tyndall addressed the defections during an appearance on radio station WGFX in Nashville.
"The four guys that were signed by Coach Martin in the early period are all very good players, and they seem to be fine young men." Tyndall said. "But if guys don't want to be here, for whatever reason, whether it's no familiarity with me or the new coaching staff, or they just want to explore their options -- I'm OK with that.
"I don't want guys to feel like they have to be at Tennessee. It's a privilege to be at Tennessee, and no one's more privileged than I am."
Cofer and Turman were "still kind of deliberating some things" and talking with their families, Tyndall said, and Tennessee's new coach said he's hopeful they'll stick with the Vols.
"We'll give them a release if they don't want to be here, too, and I don't mean that in a negative," Tyndall said. "It's just simply the nature of our business. When I recruit a young man, they basically come because of myself and our staff. That's just the reality of it. These young men weren't recruited by me.
"Everyone's got to make decisions best for them and their career, and that's what they've decided to do."
At his introduction on Tuesday afternoon, Tyndall said said his message to the players was that they were "desperately needed" and indicated the initial conversations were positive.
Though Tennessee cannot put any parameters on the releases of Austin and Cornish, the SEC has a rule in place that essentially prohibits them from ending up somewhere else in the conference. The bylaw states that a player given a release from one SEC program cannot receive financial aid from another SEC program for two years without a waiver.
Such waivers are extremely rare, according to a Tennessee spokesman.
The defections, in addition to Jarnell Stokes's decision to enter the NBA draft and Quinton Chievous's choice to graduate early and transfer to play elsewhere, now mean Tennessee has four open scholarship slots for next season.
Tyndall put together a five-man signing class -- junior college guards Jaysean Paige, Devon Baulkman and Rasham Suarez, Florida power forward Willie Carmichael and South Carolina wing Davaris McGowens -- at Southern Miss, but those players would have to request and be granted releases if they chose to follow Tyndall to Tennessee.
The late signing period for basketball began eight days ago, and though the Vols are very late in the process, there are some junior college prospects and transfers still available should Tyndall and his staff want to make additions.
"We have our antennas up or our hands on four or five guys that are kind of just becoming available through different coaching changes or a late qualifier, things of that nature," Tyndall said. "One thing I always say in recruiting: we won't sign a guy just to sign a guy and fill a spot.
"If we don't feel like a young man can 100 percent fit into how we play, is a character guy and all the things that we look for in recruiting, we'll just hold the scholarship and carry it over to the next class. With that being said, on paper, we have two scholarship guys, and if it's the right guy or two, we'll certainly look to fill those."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.