By Alex Norman
Recently the only constant in coaching a revenue sport at the University of Tennessee, has been change.
Since 2008 Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, and Butch Jones have been the football coaches. Bruce Pearl, Cuonzo Martin and Donnie Tyndall have been the men’s basketball coaches.
And now, a new contestant will enter the arena.
On Friday, March 27th, Tennessee fired Donnie Tyndall. For the eighth time in less than 6 ½ years, there will be a coaching change in football or men’s basketball.
And this time, Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart simply can’t get it wrong.
Hiring Tyndall proved to be a big mistake, and Hart understands that the blame rest on his shoulders.
“I bear responsibility for any and all hires that I have ever made, of coaches, of administrators,” said Hart. “And I am proud of my track record in that regard. But I am certainly not perfect, and I have yet to meet that man or woman who is. I am certainly not.”
Tyndall already had NCAA baggage from his years at Morehead State, which should have been a red flag to Hart. Tennessee was less than a year removed from being on probation. But Hart trusted Tyndall had changed his ways when he hired him from Southern Miss last April.
Instead, Southern Miss would be under NCAA scrutiny of its own, due to academic impropriety and financial aid violations during Tyndall’s tenure. Since November Tennessee has known about that investigation, and a black cloud hung over the Vols for the entire season, in which they finished 16-16.
Last week it was learned that Tyndall deleted emails that the NCAA would have found relevant to the investigation. That interference, coupled with other violations, likely would result in at least a one year ban by the NCAA, possibly more.
The decision to fire Tyndall after all that was easy. But was the decision to hire Tyndall a rush job? Cuonzo Martin has resigned to take the California job, and within a week Tyndall was in Knoxville.
Hart doesn’t feel that errors were made in researching Tyndall prior to his hiring.
“I think we vetted that very well. It was very similar to any search I’ve ever been involved in, in terms of the vetting,” said Hart. “Let me try to describe that just a little bit more in detail. When we vet a candidate, we talk to the president of the university. We talk to key people on the campus, the athletics director, the president, the compliance people. We vet, also, within the industry, people that know the candidate, people that have either worked for or coached against or know the candidate. We vetted with the NCAA. We say, `Are there any issues at the institution that this individual is working at?’ We knew about Morehead State. We read the report. We talked to Morehead State. The president had nothing but very, very gracious, kind and positive things to say about Donnie, as did Southern Miss, his prior institution. We vetted that in a standard process way that you would vet that. There are a lot of coaches out there that have a transgression in their history somewhere that had an opportunity to do better, and I was convinced at the time that Donnie had learned his lesson from Morehead State. Was that a risk worth taking? Not standing here today, it wasn’t.”
This is where Hart loses credibility. The “vet” was obviously not done well.
But why even take the chance in hiring someone that has NCAA punishment on their resume? Didn’t anyone on campus learn from the Bruce Pearl situation?
Well, Hart now says that he won’t consider hiring anyone that has similar NCAA issues in their background. He is also going to use a search firm with this hire, something has hasn’t done before.
For the Vols fans wanting to see Bruce Pearl back at Tennessee, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Why would Tennessee hire Pearl today and pay Auburn a $5 million buyout, when they could have hired him with zero buyout a year ago, when Pearl was in final stages of the three-year show case penalty?
And for the Vols fans wanting Tennessee to pay big bucks for their next head coach, it would be the first time, wouldn’t it? Tennessee simply has never been willing to do that. They’ll likely go the mid-major route, something they’ve done many times over the decades.
Hart is very unpopular with Tennessee fans, but as long as UT President Joe DiPietro and UT Chancellor Jimmy Creek are in his corner, he’ll probably survive this latest fiasco. But if this next hire doesn’t work out?
A Butch Jones SEC championship might be the only thing that would save his job.