Tennessee Has Its Coach: Let Donnie Be Donnie

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee has a new basketball coach, and fans seem to be getting on board for the most part. But comparisons to previous coaches, positive and negative, will be premature and unnecessary.

Donnie Tyndall of Southern Mississippi will put on an orange tie and stand before a microphone at 2:00 PM ET today.  He will most likely win the press conference, because that's usually what happens.  It takes something special to lose the presser; if you'd like to see a great save, watch Tyndall's presser at Southern Miss where he doesn't realize the winningest coach in program history who he has only spoken to on the phone is sitting right next to him when he takes the podium.

Tyndall's good-natured use of "whip their tails" in that presser was refreshing and sounds genuine.  It also calls to mind two others in Knoxville:  the one where Lane Kiffin came out of the gate semi-awkwardly stating we were going to play Rocky Top after we beat Florida before saying Mike Hamilton told him to say that...and the one where his exit was so bad, we instantly gravitated to the next guy in part because he used "britches" in his presser.

Comparisons will fly today, especially the one where he's less like Cuonzo Martin and more like Bruce Pearl.  Then we'll rush to compare him to Butch Jones because Butch Jones wasn't Tennessee's first choice either, but also and more importantly because we really like Butch Jones.  If he drops a "_____ like heck" in the presser, we've hit the trifecta.

You know the presser is more worthless than not in the long run, though.  It's important today, but gone soon after.  The biggest thing I remember about Bruce Pearl's presser was an introductory statement about the number of coaches who had walked through these doors in the last ten years and walked out for not winning enough, and how if he couldn't get it done he'd be walking out too.  I remember appreciating the honesty, ironically, but that's about it.

Back then football was winning, coming off a very strong year in 2004 with Top 5 expectations in 2005.  And when football is winning, basketball is viewed through a slightly different lens.  When football is winning, Auburn can drop $2.2 million on a basketball coach.  Meanwhile Tennessee, in every way a better basketball job than Auburn and in many ways one of the three best jobs in the SEC, went from paying Cuonzo $1.3 to offering a raise to $1.8 to paying Donnie Tyndall $1.6.  We shopped at the level we've become accustomed to in these searches, hiring mid-major guys pulling in mid-six figures and making them millionaires in the middle of the SEC pack.  Tennessee basketball has again chosen not to pay for an established winner at a major conference level, going for an established winner one step below and hoping he can write his own story here.

Few people fell in love with Bruce Pearl until he started winning ballgames, and he started winning ballgames right away.  But no matter what Donnie Tyndall says or doesn't say in his press conference, we would do ourselves and our new head coach a big favor to let go of the instant comparisons and let Donnie be Donnie.

Who is Donnie?  He's a guy who inherited a 25-win team fresh off an NCAA Tournament appearance as a nine seed, only their third in program history and the first since 1991.  The Golden Eagles lost five of their six top scorers, meaning Tyndall had to rebuild on the fly.  He went the junior college route, perhaps in part because he had to, and made sure it was reloading instead:  Southern Miss went 25-9 in his first year and got left out of the NCAA Tournament after losing to Memphis in double overtime in the Conference USA Tournament finals (despite an RPI of 31).  Last year his team was 27-6 and split the C-USA title, the first ever conference crown for Southern Miss, once again just missing the NCAA Tournament.

Tyndall's ability to reload on the fly walking into a successful team having just lost most of its production is very important.  Tennessee, as you know, will lose four of its top five scorers and has little depth or experience.  How he relates to the four incoming freshmen and what he chooses to do with a pair of open scholarships will be very important, but he has seen this situation before one step lower and made it not just work, but win.  The 2014-15 Vols will not be devoid of talent, especially talent in the backcourt that could easily translate into success for Tyndall's full-court pressure system.

Again here we'll want to compare him to Pearl.  But Pearl's at Auburn.  Donnie Tyndall is at Tennessee, and very clearly wants to be.  This too will be refreshing.  But Tyndall has done enough under his own name to earn a chance to be his own man here.  We'll gravitate to what we like in the presser today, sure.  But today, tomorrow, and beyond, it's important for Tennessee to let go of the past while holding on to the standard it created.  Because I think this guy has a real chance to win here.

Go Vols.

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