Cofer joins Vols' release parade
Tennessee's basketball signing class continued shrinking Friday.
Phil Cofer, a 6-foot-8 forward from Whitewater High School in Fayetteville, Ga., who signed with the Volunteers in the fall, was granted a release from his national letter of intent Friday, a university spokesman confirmed.
C.J. Turman, a 6-9 forward from Morgan County High School in Georgia, is expected to request his release, but the spokesman said UT has yet to receive the required paperwork to begin that process.
Illinois point guard Larry Austin and New Orleans swingman Jordan Cornish were granted their releases Wednesday, the day after Donnie Tyndall was introduced as Cuonzo Martin's successor as coach of the Volunteers. Tyndall said Thursday he wanted to meet with Cofer, who's the son of a former Tennessee linebacker, and Turman before granting their releases.
With the four-man signing class now fully depleted, the Vols have six available scholarships for the 2014-15 season.
KNOXVILLE - It's part of the reputation with which Donnie Tyndall is stepping into the Tennessee basketball head coaching position.
It comes with a label he doesn't exactly prefer.
Between phone calls to season-ticket holders and the visits he made to campus organizations to the two YouTube videos of him dancing with his players, Tyndall showed during his tenures at Morehead State and Southern Mississippi he's a bit of a marketer.
"I don't know that I necessarily like 'showman,'" Tyndall told the Times Free Press during an interview in his office late Thursday morning. "I want to be known as a great basketball coach. I'm not saying I am yet, but that's what I want to become known as.
"I think some of the things I do I would want to be labeled or talked about as being passionate and energetic and being a people person. But 'showman,' probably, to me, takes away a little bit from the basketball-coach-slash-recruiting part of it."
Still, it's hard to ignore Tyndall's track record as a salesman of himself and his program.
When he first got the Morehead State job, he called about 1,100 season-ticket holders and told them to renew for his first season even though the Eagles were coming off a 4-23 campaign.
In Tyndall's first season at Southern Miss, the Golden Eagles saw a spike of more than a thousand fans (from 3,750 in 2011-12 to 4,802 in 2012-13) in home attendance. The spike was the 25th largest in Division I that season and was the program's highest attendance in nearly two decades. Southern Miss's average home attendance was 4,408 this past season.
Though Tyndall said he's basically just being himself, it's clearly part of his coaching philosophy.
"I'm a people person," he said. "I like to meet people. I like to greet people. I like to get to know people. Whether it's five minutes in Walmart or five minutes in the shopping mall, if someone wants to come up and talk and visit, I want to do that, and I enjoy doing that.
"I think when you do that, it gives the people you're communicating with some ownership because now they feel like, 'I know that coach,' or, 'I met that coach,' and, 'Let's go pull for that coach.' That's important, just to be yourself and spend time with people and let them get to know you."
At both Morehead State and Southern Miss, Tyndall and his staff focused some of their promotion efforts toward students. He spoke to fraternities and sororities before the season, handed out schedule cards and posters on campus and took a megaphone to on-campus cafeterias to generate interest and excitement.
"Things of those nature, things like that we've done everywhere we've been," Tyndall said. "You have to put your ego in check and understand that all these things you're doing are to grow your fan base and create excitement around your program."
It paid off in increased attendance and wins.
Southern Miss was 15-0 at home in 2013-14 after going 14-2 in Tyndall's first season, the losses being to Memphis and to BYU in the National Invitation Tournament. Tyndall said between 1,500 and 1,800 fans made the drive from Hattiesburg to New Orleans to see the Golden Eagles clinch their share of the Conference USA title in March.
In six seasons at Morehead State, the Eagles were 68-19 inside the 6,500-seat Johnson Arena, and during one four-year stretch, Morehead State lost just seven games at home.
While drumming up student-body interest and community support was important at the two smaller programs, there's no shortage of fan interest and media attention at Tennessee, which boasts one of the nation's largest arenas and has been a fixture among the national attendance leaders for the past nine seasons.
That doesn't seem likely to change Tyndall's approach, though.
"Maybe you tweak it a little bit, but I think the bottom line is you want your fans to be with you through thick and thin," he said. "Now, at the first two stops, it was more about growing our fan base and getting people excited, where here, we have great fans and they're already excited.
"But now, when things get bumpy, if they don't know you, maybe they become negative, whereas if you're out doing all the things we talked about earlier, and it does get a little bumpy, they hang right in there with you because, again, they feel some ownership in the program."
Since Tennessee's average home attendance crested at 20,483 for Bruce Pearl's fourth season in 2008-09, the Volunteers have been part of a national trend and seen a steady decline in attendance over the past five seasons. This season, Cuonzo Martin's third as coach, attendance dipped to 15,475 a game, the lowest since Buzz Peterson's final season as coach in 2004-05.
Tyndall's personality will be a departure from Martin's introverted style and more resemble what Pearl did.
"I just try to be myself," Tyndall said, "which is a person that's going to engage people, never talk down to anybody, never big-time anybody and just be a regular dude, which is what I am."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org