“Thank you very much. What a great turnout. I’m so honored and privileged to be here today. I want to start by acknowledging these young men over here to my right [ the returning student-athletes] on what a fantastic season that they had, their Sweet Sixteen run to finish out the year. I want to say how prideful I am to be their coach and I think they certainly deserve a round of applause for all they accomplished.
“I’d like to just add before I start into my little spiel here… Dave Hart mentioned the fact that I remind him a little bit of Butch Jones, which is such a compliment. When I dug into (Jones’) past and his history and where he is from, it’s amazing. We actually grew up about an hour apart. I’m from Grand Rapids and he’s from Saugatuck, Mich., again about an hour apart. Coach (Jones) isn’t here, is he? Dave? He’s not here. If you can relay this message to him, I’m from Grand Rapids, he’s from Saugatuck, and all the Grand Rapids guys think those Saugatuck guys are really soft. So, let him know that, would you? I’m just teasing, of course.
“I want to start by certainly thanking Chancellor Cheek for this opportunity, Dave Hart, who I’ve just hit it off with and look so much forward to working with. They were a big part of my decision to come here to Tennessee. I certainly want to thank them for this opportunity.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my president at Southern Miss, Dr. Rodney Bennett and my athletic director there, Bill McGillis, whom I had a phenomenal relationship with. They made this decision tough in one regard, but on the flip side, it’s the University of Tennessee and an opportunity that I’m so excited about.
“I want to thank some very important people in my life that have helped to get me to the point I am in my career. John Brady, who gave me my first chance in Division I basketball at LSU as an assistant coach. I was the youngest assistant coach at that time at 25-years-old in the SEC and had a dream of one day being a head coach at this level. Kermit Davis, my boss and co-worker at LSU and then my boss at Middle Tennessee. Those two guys have been great mentors to me. Coach Wayne Martin… coach Wayne Martin is here. He was a head coach at Morehead State and some people would say I was the best coach to ever coach there, but coach Martin was the best coach. My mom and dad; mom and dad are right here. My daughters, who couldn’t be here today. Taylor is 14. She has a softball game. And Grace is 11. She has a big spring play that she is in, so they couldn’t be here. Then, my fiancé, Nikki. Nikki and I are getting married in August. Nikki, if you could stand up for a second, please.
“Now some of you, I’m sure, have heard that rumor that maybe I was the second choice for this job. I don’t know. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. Roy Williams was like the 10th choice at Kansas and it worked out pretty well for him. I’ll say this… look at her and look at me. I probably wasn’t her first choice either. I will say this, I think it proves I’m a pretty darn good recruiter, right?
“I’m humbled to be your coach. I think Tennessee is a special place. Many people would ask ‘why do you think that, coach?’ I say this, the tradition starting with coach Ray Mears and all the great coaches that have coached at this university. The success that has been passed on from year to year, so many great coaches and I’m proud to be one of them, or at least be a head coach grouped in with those guys at this point. All the great players – when you look back at all the great pros, the All-Stars, the All-Americans, from the ‘Ernie & Bernie Show,’ Tony White, who I grew up watching, Allan Houston, and then recent guys like Chris Lofton, one of the best shooters to ever play in the SEC, C.J. Watson, Tobias Harris, the list goes on and on. I hope we have a few more that will be added to that list in the future. The tradition of the women’s program… I grew up admiring and still do, coach Pat Summitt. I can’t wait to meet her. You talk about eight national championships, over 1,000 wins. It’s absolutely amazing. The tradition in athletics and then the basketball program is second to none.
“I believe in the student-athlete. Obviously the emphasis there on ‘student.’ My mom and dad were educators, my mom was a principal, teacher, my dad was a teacher, principal and superintendent of schools. In my eight years as a head coach, at the end of this May, I will have graduated 21 of my 22 seniors. So when I say the word or the term student-athlete it is not just lip service. Our kids will go to class, they will be on time, they will value an education and they will leave the University of Tennessee with a degree in hand. I can assure you that.
“Our guys will handle themselves in the community in a first-class manner. We are not going to have thugs. We are not going to have renegades as part of our program. It won’t happen on my watch. Will we have perfect angels? I doubt it. I am not a perfect angel. But we are going to have people who are prideful to wear the Tennessee uniform and want to represent our university the exact right way.
“Our style of play, which I am sure we will have some questions about that, but it is an aggressive, attacking type of basketball. We full-court press on every made basket and deadball. We get after people from end line to end line. We fall back to an aggressive matchup zone. If you have seen Louisville play, our defensive philosophy is much like Louisville. We have been in the top-30 in Division I basketball each of the last two years in steals, and that is obviously because we are playing an aggressive, attacking defensive style of play. Offensively, we are going to push the basketball on misses and long rebounds. In the half-court we are going to run a high-low motion with a ton of ball screening trying to give our guards the freedom to create and make plays. Offensively, if you can envision a Kansas-type team, that is how we will play at the offensive end.
“Recruiting wise, we are going to recruit the best players in America. We will never, ever walk into a gym and take second fiddle or be OK with finishing second on anyone we recruit. When we walk in with that ‘T’ on our chest, people are going to say, `Oh boy, here comes Donnie and his crew, we better lace them up,’ because we are going to compete everyday relentlessly on the recruiting trail. We have to start that right here in our home state. We have to get into Memphis. We have to control our state because we are the best program in our state. We want everyone who wants to be a Vol or should be a Vol to be a Tennessee Vol.
“We will leave no stone unturned, as I mentioned, our work ethic in recruiting will be second to none. I will have a staff of young aggressive go-getters that will be great with our players, be able to relate to our young people and do a fantastic job, so that you see NBA type players and great college players on our roster every year.
“We have a great university to sell. When you look around at these facilities and all that we have at the University of Tennessee, we should be able to get the best players. We will do everything in our power as a staff to make that happen. But most importantly, we have the best fan base in college basketball, right here in Knoxville, Tennessee. And because of you fans, young people are going to want to come to our school and they are going to want to play in front of you.
“Thank you very much. I am excited to be your head coach and if you have any questions at this time I will be happy to answer them.”
(On filling the positions on his coaching staff)
“I have a fantastic staff that I had at Southern Miss, and I have to make some decisions, and a lot of that is going to be predicated on a couple different guys that I am visiting with. My entire staff is going to be coming with me from Southern Miss, but they may not be in the same role. I have to make some decisions as I just said, visit with a couple other people and I hope to have that done in the next 48-72 hours.”
(On coach Cuonzo Martin leaving Tennessee)
“I think every coach has their own reasons to make a move. What is important to them and their family? Obviously, coach Martin did a fantastic job, and he made a decision that he felt was best for him and his family. Just like I had to make a tough decision to leave Southern Miss because I think this is the right opportunity for my family and me. I really can’t answer as to why, I am sure he has his reasons. But I am certainly glad he made that decision.”
(On other coaching opportunities)
“I did and there have been opportunities, I have said this, there have been opportunities in the past and I was very, very happy at Southern Miss. Again, my working relationships with my bosses there were incredible. The fans were amazing. The two-year run there, was the best two-year run in the history of the program so I felt like I had some security. But on the flip side, this is the University of Tennessee, you can compete to go to the Final Four, and you can compete to win a national championship, and that is my plan.”
(On the importance of bringing stability to the Tennessee Basketball program)
“Well, I think it is very important. Tennessee to me is a destination job. It is in the best league, to me, in the country. I know that is going to vary year-to-year, but arguably it is one of the better conferences in the country year-in and year-out. I think it is a place that is my network recruiting-wise, in the southeast, the states I have recruited for 15 years. I have the network and the relationships to be able to get quality players each and every year. I just think, again, the fan base, the passion that our fans have, when you can get 18,000 to 20,000 fans in the gym every night, that is appealing.”
(On being prepared to coach in the SEC)
“Well at the lower levels, as Dave said, you are a grinder. I am not jumping on a private plane to go see a kid play. At Morehead State it was six hours one way, stay the night at a gas station for a three-hour nap, and finish up so you can get back for the 6 a.m. morning workout. Those are the things we did religiously for six years. At Southern Miss it was a little bit better but the bottom line, the resources that you don’t have at those places make you do without and you have to be hungry, you have to be driven. I think it has prepared me, because I will carry that same mentality, work ethic and attitude into this position as I had in my first two stops.”
(On uniting the fan base)
“It has to start today. Look, I am a big fan of coach (Bruce) Pearl. I think he is fantastic. He is obviously a great coach and had great success. He is a dynamic personality. With all that being said, coach Martin did an outstanding job and he had his niche. But we have to put that behind us, and it has to start today, and we all have to rally and get on the same bus, if you will. We are all Tennessee Vols 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.”
(On recruiting relationships in the state of Tennessee)
“I think it is always helpful when you have some built-in relationships. When I was at Middle Tennessee we recruited Memphis; we have carried that over. When I was at Morehead State, our guard who hit the shot to beat Louisville in the NCAA Tournament was a Nashville kid. So we have some relationships across the state. There may be a guy or two that I entertain hiring on our staff with some other or more relationships. But I certainly think with the success of former Tennessee players having been at Middle Tennessee, it will open some doors for us.”
(On losing a lot of talent this past season and his message to the team)
“When you look at the roster, we lost 72 percent of our scoring and 69 percent of our rebounding, so when I meet with these guys individually I’ll tell them that somebody needs to step up. I could see it in their eyes in my meeting with them (earlier as a group) that we have a young, eager group. It’s guys who are ready to work. We will start individual workouts tomorrow. My message was very short and simple. I’m a very short, no-nonsense guy, my MO everywhere has been that we are going to outwork and out-tough people. I think if they’re committed to doing that, regardless of what people think we’ve lost on paper next year, we’ll surprise some folks. But everybody’s got to buy in, and I anticipate all these guys and the four signees to do just that.”
(On how long this job has interested him)
“Well, should I tell the story, Dave? I showed Dave yesterday at the interview… my youngest daughter, Grace, she’s 11. If you’ve seen my two daughters throughout my coaching career, a lot of times they sit on the end of the bench. In fact, a few years ago in the NCAA Tournament, Erin Andrews interviewed my oldest daughter. They’re like those girls in the movie Remember the Titans; they live and breathe it now. So we’re at the Final Four, Nikki and I and the girls are with us, and Tulsa calls on Saturday morning and their athletic director and the search firm wanted to meet with me. So I got dressed and told the girls I was going to meet with them and went down and did the interview. I got back and the girls asked `what do you think daddy, what do you think?’ and I said `well, I don’t think that’s the right spot for daddy.’ They said `why not, they’re in UConn’s conference, that’s the big conference’ and so I told them that I thought something maybe down the road would be a little bit better fit for your dad… that maybe the Tennessee job would open up because, at the time, Cuonzo was rumored to be going to Marquette. So obviously that didn’t transpire, and then about a week later I got a text from my daughter, Grace, and I showed it to Dave. She texted me and it said in capital letters, ‘THE TENNESSEE JOB IS OPEN… HINT, HINT.’ So you never hope that a guy leaves, but this was a job that was on my radar, and Grace’s, too.”
(On hiring on any of his assistant coaches from Southern Miss)
“I will. I’m not sure in what capacity. But my entire staff will be coming with me. I’ve got to work some things out over the next couple of days. I’ve got an outstanding young staff. Grinders, workaholics and guys that the community will really like to get to know. So I will be bringing them. I just need to sort out in what capacity.”
(On the NCAA issue he encountered at Morehead State)
“It was isolated to one booster situation. It involved a gentleman who meant no harm or ill will, but because he was a graduate of Morehead State University and was contacting some players without our knowledge, he became quote-unquote an extra coach. My staff had a relationship with this guy. It wasn’t ever proven, and it wasn’t the case, that we ever asked him to do these things. He was just a guy who loved basketball and wanted to help get these people into school. It was a learning experience. My athletic director and I worked hand-in-hand with the NCAA. It didn’t go to the committee on infractions. It went to summary disposition. We lost scholarships for a year. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t shy away from responsibility. I learned from it and certainly don’t ever expect it to happen again.”
(On questions he had about this job)
“When would I start? You know, the biggest thing I think anyone looking forward would say is, ‘do the guys on the roster plan to come back?’ And I don’t think any of them at this point plan to leave, which is great. The second thing is, ‘were any of the four signees not wanting to come?’ and that doesn’t seem to be the case in my conversations with Dave. The last thing was ‘were there any APR issues?’ Which they cleared up with me quickly, because in this day and age, if you get into APR issues (and get a) postseason ban then your hands are tied in regard to growing your program. The next thing was, ‘how do you feel about your boss and your working relationship?’ Dave is one of those guys who makes you feel very comfortable. He did that in a very short time last night and (senior executive associate athletics director Jon Gilbert) did that as well. I could tell I would enjoy working with those guys. So those couple things were quickly answered, and my mind was made up.”
(On the importance of individual meetings with the current players and building trust)
“You know, I think we will hit it off right away, because I told them in our first meeting that I’m never going to lie to them. Some things that I tell them may hurt their feelings, but I’m a direct, straightforward person. I’m going to look you in the eye and tell you what I think. That’s the way you have true relationships. They might not always like it, but they respect it. When I tell them I’m going to do them A, B and C… then we do A, B, and C. When I tell a player we’re going to hit the line 10 times, we’re not going to hit it nine. They are going to do it the exact right way, and I think when you handle people that way the respect is there and you form a true relationship and bond.”
(On his biggest challenge coming to an SEC, football-focused school)
“I think obviously being a quote-unquote ‘football school,’ I think I’ll have an athletic director who is very supportive of basketball and the same with Chancellor Cheek. Those guys are very supportive of basketball, so that’s important. Also, you sell the fact that you have a great football program and that your fan base can get 100,000 people into the (stadium) to watch them play and how passionate they are. I think when you have that and you bring kids in for football weekends, it helps you sell your program and sell your fan base to a young man and his family. When I look at coaches I have a lot of respect for across the country, (Florida head coach) Billy Donovan is at the top of that list. And what he’s done at a football school is exactly what we’re going to try to do at the University of Tennessee.”
(On his plans for the Spring signing period)
“We’ve certainly been active, and we’ve got our hands on four or five guys who are just becoming available. One thing I always say in recruiting is we won’t sign a guy just to fill a spot. If we don’t feel like a young man can 100 percent fit in to how we play then we will just hold the scholarship until the next class. With that being said, on paper we have two scholarships to give, and if it’s the right guy or two we will certainly fill those.”
(On selling the facilities)
“The first sell is the arena. It seats 20,000-plus and fans that watch you play. Secondly, Knoxville is a great city; I haven’t heard one negative thing about it. The fact that we’re going to play an exciting brand of basketball… I’ve also been at two schools that didn’t even have a practice facility, so now that I can talk about that and a weight room. Trust me, we’ll be able to sell Tennessee just fine.”