The NCAA is scheduled to speak with Donnie Tyndall next week and Tennessee director of athletics Dave Hart will soon have a decision to make. Will he dig in and battle the NCAA with Tyndall? Or will he seek to distance himself from Tennessee’s first-year coach and protect the athletic department from further NCAA prying?
No one knows what, if anything, the NCAA has on Tyndall at this point. He could very well escape these accusations without blemish, but the allegations against Tyndall are serious, and, if they have any legitimacy, could clearly result in stiff penalties. Tennessee has yet to publicly back Tyndall, instead administrators have chosen to defend their vetting process. That’s not a fantastic sign for the Tyndall camp and it suggests the following statement is an unpopular opinion – Dave Hart should back Tyndall if at all possible.
Though coaching changes aren’t as damaging in basketball as they are in football, another coaching change would be more detrimental to the program than all but the harshest NCAA penalties. When former Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin bolted for California, Tennessee’s roster nearly disintegrated. As a result, the Vols return just four players from last year’s Sweet 16 squad and are picked to finish 13th in the SEC.
It’s far too early in the process to accurately predict any potential NCAA punishments, but we do know the type of penalties they typically dole out.
What if the NCAA slaps Tyndall with a postseason ban for this season? Tennessee should unquestionably weather it. Most college basketball experts believe the Vols will struggle to make it to the NIT and that they have almost no shot earning an NCAA Tournament berth. What about a two-year ban? Changing coaches would probably have the same effect and would hurt UT’s efforts to make an appearance in any tournament three years from now.
How about if the NCAA reduces recruiting days and scholarship numbers for Vol basketball if Tyndall remains the head man? Tennessee would also be wise to ride those out. They wouldn’t damage the roster as much as another coaching change and the resulting mass exodus from Knoxville that would surely follow.
Tulsa head coach Frank Haith was suspended five games for violations which make the accusations against Tyndall seem like a parking ticket (hat tip to Robbie O’Bryan for that comparison). Even if the NCAA decided to combine postseason bans, scholarship reductions and a multi-game suspension for Tyndall, Tennessee would still be better off with Tyndall than rolling the dice on another coach.
After just a few months of covering the Vol basketball program under Tyndall’s lead, I’m confident the Vols have a good coach. His practices are organized and intense. He’s embraced the Knoxville community and has spoken to hundreds of groups since taking the job. His players, by all accounts, like him. His zone defense is a proven commodity and his offenses are efficient. In fact, his teams have ranked first or second in offensive efficiency in conference three of the last four years according to KenPom.com. They’ve also ranked among the conference leaders in opponent turnover percentage the last five seasons.
Tyndall is a good coach.
And he’s a good fit.
Dave Hart would be hard-pressed to hire a coach of Tyndall’s caliber again, especially if the perception among coaching circles is that Hart didn’t back Tyndall. Remember, Hart doesn’t exactly have a track record for going out and getting his top target. Charlie Strong publicly spurned Hart during the search that brought Tennessee Butch Jones and Louisiana Tech’s Michael White turned Hart down after Martin left for Cal.
A multi-year show cause would likely force his hand, but for anything short of the NCAA’s “weightiest” penalty, Hart should support his head coach. After all, Tyndall is his hire.
When Cuonzo Martin left Tennessee for Cal, Hart outlined a specific coaching profile for his search. He wanted a proven winner, a coach with an energetic personality, a tireless recruiter, and a coach with a track record of academic success. That profile (eventually) led him to Donnie Tyndall.
Tennessee’s last two high profile searches prove that coaches who fit Hart’s profile are hard to find and even harder to hire. The Vols have one – Hart said as much at Tyndall’s introductory press conference.
“I don’t think we could have found anyone who fits this profile better than the man I’m about to introduce to you, our new men’s head basketball coach, Donnie Tyndall,” Hart said.
He’ll have a chance to stand by those words, and his coach, in the coming weeks.