As we mentioned yesterday when rumors started flying, the best part about this news is its timing.
Tennessee men's basketball coach Donnie Tyndall has been forced to resign, according to a report by Gary Parrish and confirmed by multiple local outlets early this morning. News broke yesterday of the NCAA informing Tennessee of the details of its findings on Tyndall and Southern Miss. You can speculate on new information surfacing and/or Tyndall not being completely forthcoming with Tennessee earlier in this process, but either way it was enough for a Tennessee administration that seemed to want to keep him to go ahead and pull the trigger.
Tyndall leaves behind one 16-16 season and a potential that was ultimately overshadowed by his past. The Vols lose Josh Richardson to graduation but return everyone else from a hastily assembled roster after the departure of Cuonzo Martin. Cuonzo won more games than any SEC coach in his first three seasons in the last 15 years other than John Calipari and Bruce Pearl, but was made to feel unwanted because he wasn't Bruce Pearl and left for California. Tennessee won't be bringing back Bruce Pearl this time for, in addition to all the reasons they didn't bring him back last time, the same reason they weren't going to move on Donnie Tyndall before the NCAA news: a five million dollar buyout.
This means the story instantly becomes about Tennessee's next coach, and what the administration will be willing to pay, as usual. I'm not sure anyone will be jumping up and down to follow this mess or inherit the roster of consecutive coaching changes, but Tennessee Basketball still comes with Thompson-Boling Arena and all the history (and the expectations) of a traditionally top-tier SEC program, and one still carrying the memory of four Sweet 16 appearances in the last nine years.
If Tennessee, still waiting for football to win big and its eventual financial reward, isn't willing to drop more money on its basketball coach this time, I'd expect the Vols to go back to the mid-major aisle where they found Buzz Peterson, Bruce Pearl, Cuonzo Martin, and Donnie Tyndall. As you can see, sometimes you find winners there, and sometimes you find a mess. The SEC has stepped up its game significantly, even in the last year. Now you've got Ben Howland at Mississippi State and some lottery winnings awaiting Gregg Marshall at Alabama. Even unsuccessful programs like South Carolina have coaches like Frank Martin and, of course, Bruce Pearl at Auburn. The SEC is getting better. Tennessee is in danger of getting worse if they don't do a good job right now.
But again, it's critical that this is happening right now. Now the Vols are on the carousel with everyone else, and the recruiting process can begin afresh as soon as a coach is hired. Two different coaches have won 20+ games and taken this program to the Sweet 16 in the last few years; Bruce isn't the only guy who could win here. It's up to Dave Hart to go get it right this time, a thought that brings comfort to few in this process after Hart didn't fully support Cuonzo Martin, missed on Louisiana Tech's Michael White last time, then hired a coach who had to be fired less than a year later. To be fair, it is possible the due diligence and Tyndall's own words didn't give Hart the information he needed on what happened at Southern Miss, which surfaced several months after the hire. But this is an even more important hire at an even more critical time for Tennessee Basketball. In this sport change can happen very quickly, both positively and negatively. The Vols have to get it right or get left behind.