Tennessee went 24-13 and reached an NCAA men's basketball regional semifinal this past season under Cuonzo Martin, who left April 15 to take over California's program. But the Volunteers' average home attendance of 15,475 was their lowest since 2004-05. Attendance has dropped 24.4 percent since 2008-09, when Tennessee averaged 20,483 fans per home game. This year's attendance figures were somewhat skewed from the fact Tennessee didn't host Kentucky for the first time since 1952-53. "It's not as big a concern as the data might suggest to me personally," Hart said. "Of course you'd like to have a full house every game, and that's what we'll strive for, but I'm not overly concerned about that. I applaud our fan base for their persistent priority of being a part of that basketball scene and that football scene on game day." Hart said attendance is an issue across the country and that Tennessee still ranks among the nation's best programs in that regard. Tennessee was 12th nationally in home attendance this season, the first time since 2004-05 it hadn't finished in the top six. The attendance decline isn't limited to the men's program. The Tennessee women's basketball team averaged 11,038 fans per home game — its lowest attendance since 1996-97 and a 30-percent drop from the 2007-08 national championship season — but it still led the nation for an 11th consecutive year. Hart believes Tyndall's outgoing nature will boot Tennessee's fan support and recruiting efforts. Videos of Tyndall doing the "Harlem Shake" with his Southern Mississippi players and dancing the "Dougie" with his Morehead State team are on YouTube. In Tyndall's first season at Southern Mississippi, the Golden Eagles posted their best home attendance average in over 20 years. Tyndall's energy level reminds Hart of Jones. "The longer I talked to him, the more commonality I saw in their personality, in their energy, in their enthusiasm, in their desire to pull everybody together," Hart said. "Those comparisons became very natural." They're also alike in that both have taken on tough challenges. Jones is trying to turn around a program that has posted four straight losing seasons. Tyndall must replace four of the top five scorers from this year's team. His task got tougher when all four players who signed with Tennessee in November requested releases. "Will this be a tough year? It might be," Hart said. "We don't know that for certain, but this could be a tough year because the roster is thin both in numbers and in experience. But he's faced this before. He's faced this at the two previous stops." Also during the interview, Hart expressed relief that the Southeastern Conference adopted a football scheduling format that preserved the annual Tennessee-Alabama rivalry. Tennessee now must try to reverse the recent history in this series, as Alabama has won the last seven meetings by an average margin of 24.9 points. "I know some people say recently Alabama has dominated the rivalry," Hart said. "Well, there's a period in time where we dominated the rivalry, Tennessee. Those things are cyclical in nature. We're in the process of making a lot of progress rebuilding our football program. That pendulum will swing back. But that's a game that's extremely important to our fan base for all the right reasons."
""The longer I talked to him, the more commonality I saw in their personality, in their energy, in their enthusiasm, in their desire to pull everybody together "
Hart finds similarities
The more Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart sees of Donnie Tyndall, the more the Volunteers' new men's basketball coach reminds him of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones. Tennessee's football team posted the same 5-7 record in Jones' first year on the job as it recorded the year before his arrival, but Jones' engaging personality and tireless recruiting have made him enormously popular in Knoxville. Hart believes Tyndall has similar traits that will help him win over fans and prospects. "I came away very impressed with his ability to connect with people," Hart said in an interview with The Associated Press. "He's like Butch in that regard. He genuinely likes people. He loves being around people. He'll love being around our fans and our alumni, and he'll connect with all our constituencies who are so important to us."
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