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And now, it’s basketball time in Tyndallsee

By Steve Williams

It’s so interesting how fast the dominoes can fall.

Auburn snatched up Bruce Pearl before Tennessee could have if it wanted.

Cuonzo Martin left for the calmer pastures of California.

Eleven-year-old Grace Tyndall sent her dad a text message: THE TENNESSEE JOB IS OPEN: HINT! HINT!

Donnie Tyndell said, “When do I start?”

And now, it’s basketball time in Tyndallsee.

Hired as the new UT basketball coach last week, Tyndall appears to be an appropriate choice to replace the guy who replaced the guy.

Tyndall (pronounced Ten-dull) may not be the real McCoy, but some 36,000 Vol fans should be pleased to know his coaching style is similar in many ways to that of Pearl, who directed UT to elite status on the national scene before being fired and given a three-year NCAA show cause in 2011.

The best of the Pearl era was so popular it turned out to be too tough of an act to follow any longer for Martin, who left for a new job on the West Coast after guiding Tennessee to the Sweet Sixteen this past season, his third campaign at UT.

Like Pearl, Tyndall had been a success at the mid-major level, directing Morehead (Ky.) State to the NCAA dance in 2009 and 2011 and following that up with 27-10 and 29-7 records and NIT tourney berths the past two seasons at Southern Mississippi. His overall head coaching record is 200-106.

Also like Bruce, Tyndall, 43, coaches with passion on the sideline, uses an aggressive attacking defense, gets out and about to promote his program and appreciates a passionate fan base. Why, he’s even been in some trouble with the NCAA, although he didn’t look investigators straight in the eye and lie about it or try to get others to cover up for him.

Bonus: Tyndall has a “lot of similarities” to Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, said Athletic Director Dave Hart as he introduced UT’s 19th head coach last Tuesday. Both are from Michigan and both have pulled themselves up in the coaching ranks by the “bootstraps.”

“Donnie has boundless energy,” said Hart, and “he’s everywhere” as a recruiter.

Those qualities are already being put to the test as Tyndall has to rebuild the Vols’ roster. Three of Martin’s four incoming signees have already decided not to play at Tennessee and have been granted their release from their letters of intent, and the fourth, Philip Cofer, a 6-8 power forward from Fayetteville, Ga., has asked for his release so he can go about testing the recruiting waters once again.

Cofer, by the way, is a legacy guy. His dad, Mike Cofer, played at Rule High and was a football standout at UT and in the NFL with the Detroit Lions. With his ties to Knoxville and UT, there’s still a good chance Cofer could end up at Tennessee.

Tyndall realizes another one of his first challenges is to unite the fan base. He said he was “a big fan” of Pearl and he said Martin “did an outstanding job.” But now, he says, it’s time to come together.

“We all have to rally and get on the same bus, if you will. We’re all Tennessee Vol fans. We all bleed orange. We all want our team, our young guys to do well. So let’s start today. Let’s pull this thing together, put all that stuff behind us and go to work.”

Sporting an Orange and White candy cane striped tie, Tyndall won the press conference/show in impressive fashion. The only flaw I could detect was his pronunciation of Vol, which came out sounding more like “vowel.” Butch has probably already helped him with that.

After expressing gratitude for those who have helped him in his career, Tyndall’s first order of business was to acknowledge the returning players from Tennessee’s 2013-14 team and congratulate them on the season they had.

We learned he and and his fiancee, Nikki, will be getting married in August, and his two daughters, Taylor and Grace, will be sitting on the end of the bench at Vol games.

I believe Tennessee fans are going to like him. He’s down-to-earth. He’s funny. He can tell a good story. Most importantly, it appears he really wants to be here.

Historically, UT has enjoyed its best seasons in basketball under two coaches – Ray Mears and Pearl – who were great promoters. It’s early, but Tyndall appears to having the makings of being the third.

At Southern Miss, Donnie once went around campus with a bullhorn, encouraging students to come and see the Eagles beat Texas El Paso. For a home game in the NIT, the first 1,000 students got free tickets, thanks to Coach Tyndall, who picked up the tab.

Tyndall planned to see his team for the first time in individual workouts the following morning after the announcement of his hiring.

Like Coach Norman Dale in the movie “Hoosiers,” I can just imagine Tyndall standing there, with a whistle around his neck and a ball under his arm, and saying to himself, “OK, let’s see what kind of hand I’ve been dealt.”

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