Rehiring Bruce Pearl wasn't an option for Tennessee since he had already landed the Auburn job by the time Cuonzo Martin found the fresh start he was looking for at Cal six days ago.
Instead the Vols did the next best thing, nabbing an up-and-coming coach who possesses some of the same qualities Pearl had when he came to Tennessee from Wisconsin Milwaukee in 2005.
Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall reached an agreement to become Tennessee's next coach, the school confirmed Tuesday morning. Tyndall will be introduced at a 2 p.m. news conference.
Like Pearl, Tyndall has a larger-than-life personality capable of luring recruits and energizing a football-first fan base. Like Pearl, Tyndall won big in two lower-profile jobs before before making his major-conference debut at Tennessee. And like Pearl, Tyndall favors full-court pressure, though his teams have traditionally played at a much slower tempo than Pearl's Tennessee teams did.
The quality that probably made Tyndall most attractive to Tennessee, however, is one Pearl did not share. Tyndall has a network of recruiting contacts in the South, having recruited to an SEC program as an LSU assistant, worked in the state of Tennessee as an assistant at Middle Tennessee and thrived as a head coach at Morehead State before leaving for Southern Miss two years ago.
Tennessee hired Tyndall after reportedly swinging and missing on some more high-profile candidates and failing to reach an agreement with Louisiana Tech coach Michael White. Nonetheless, Tyndall is still a very solid hire even if he isn't as big a name as a Gregg Marshall or Shaka Smart or he lacks the pedigree that White has as the son of Duke's widely respected athletic director.
Hired in 2006 to overhaul a Morehead State program that went 4-23 the year before he got there, Tyndall led the Eagles to the NCAA tournament his third season and had them in contention every season thereafter. His best team was a Kenneth Faried-led 2010-11 squad that won 25 games and upset Louisville in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Tyndall fell just short of the NCAA tournament both his seasons at Southern Miss, but he did a remarkable job sustaining and bolstering the success Larry Eustachy enjoyed with the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss won 56 games in two seasons, captured the Conference USA regular season crown this year and made the NIT quarterfinals twice.
One key for Tyndall will be whether his familiarity with recruiting Tennessee and neighboring states will lead to blue-chip recruits. Tyndall has won with transfers and under-the-radar prospects at his previous stops, but a fan base like Tennessee's demands occasional blue-chip prospects.
It will help if Tyndall is able to hit the ground running in recruiting because the Vols are probably headed for a rebuilding year next season. Four of Tennessee's five leading scorers are leaving including graduating senior Jordan McRae and NBA draft-bound junior Jarnell Stokes, though the Vols do have enough backcourt talent returning to be competitive in the SEC.
The Tennessee job proved too much for Martin to handle because he could never match what Pearl accomplished.
In six seasons in Knoxville, Pearl led Tennessee to six straight NCAA tournaments, ascended to No. 1 in the nation briefly in 2008 and reached the Elite Eight in 2010. Tennessee fans circulated a petition urging the school to rehire Pearl as Martin was trying to lead Tennessee to the NCAA tournament this winter after back-to-back NIT bids his first two seasons.
The similarities between Tyndall and Pearl will inevitably lead to comparisons, but the Tennessee fan base should give its new coach time to build the program.
All the qualities Tyndall has in common with Pearl should help him be successful even if they don't guarantee identical results.
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