Where does Hart go from here?

InsideTennessee is your No. 1 option for top-flight coverage of Vol sports. Check out this story on the basketball outlook in the wake of Donnie Tyndall's firing:

Tennessee’s administration should be getting pretty good at basketball coaching searches. The Friday morning termination of Donnie Tyndall leaves the school seeking a new head man for the third time in five years.

-Bruce Pearl was fired in March of 2011 after lies to NCAA investigators about minor violations resulted in a three-year “show cause,” essentially banning him from coaching during that span.

-Cuonzo Martin bolted for Cal in April of 2014 when a Sweet 16 run failed to produce the kind of contractual job security he expected.

-Less than a year later Tyndall has been dismissed for cause – alleged NCAA rules violations under his watch (2012-2014) at Southern Miss and a subsequent deletion of emails that apparently constituted a “failure to comply” with NCAA investigators.

Athletics director Dave Hart, in announcing Tyndall’s dismissal with no buyout, said Tennessee is “striving for stability” in its basketball program. That’s a reasonable goal. There are plenty of good basketball coaches out there. The Vols just need to find one of them.

One key in that endeavor: Don’t rush the search process. That’s a recipe for disaster, as UT’s recent history clearly shows.

Former Vol AD Mike Hamilton rushed the process and hired Lane Kiffin as football coach in December of 2008 in hopes of salvaging Tennessee’s recruiting class. That move backfired.

Hamilton made the same mistake a year later. When Kiffin bolted for USC Tennessee hurriedly hired Derek Dooley, who was fired after three years spent running the program into the ground.

Hamilton’s haste also struck in hoops. After firing Pearl, he hired his polar opposite in Cuonzo Martin, whose low-key personality failed to energize the fan base.

After conducting his own search last time, Hart says he will engage a search firm this time. He also vows to loosen the purse strings to get the right coach, noting that “the marketplace is shifting dramatically” in terms of coaching salaries. He says Tennessee is “on pace for a record year” in donations, which should help.

Tyndall already had one strike (an NCAA violation under his watch at Morehead State) when Hart hired him a year ago. The AD insisted that the Vols’ next coach will have no such baggage.

The million-dollar question: Can Tennessee get the right guy this time?

Sure, it can … if it focuses on meeting key criteria instead of meeting a deadline.

In order to excite a frustrated fan base, Tennessee needs a coach with a winning resume and a winning personality. Hart conceded as much, noting that he seeks someone with “a consistent track record of success,” then adding: “I think we need enthusiasm in our head coach” and someone who “embraces the fact that they are a visible ambassador” of the program. The athletics director also mentioned the need for a skilled recruiter, noting: “If you don’t have some elite athletes on your squad you’re not going to excel.”

Reduced to four scholarship players following the Cuonzo Martin departure last spring, Tennessee was seriously lacking in elite athletes during the 2014-15 season. The supply is even leaner now that senior Josh Richardson has exhausted his eligibility. The status of November signees Admiral Schofield and Shembari Phillips is uncertain. Having contacted both about Tyndall’s termination, Hart said “their heads are spinning” but that he and interim head coach Al Pinkins will continue reaching out to them and other prospects Tennessee is pursuing.

Although the talent level is weak during the spring signing period, the Vols can assemble a competitive team between now and November if they hire a coach from the right pool. Hart was swimming in these same waters just one year ago, so that should be an advantage. He knows which coaches may be available and what their cost might be.

“Depending upon the candidate and the circumstances,” Hart said, “I think we are totally prepared to get into that marketplace to the level that makes sense.”

Based on what he knows now, Hart admitted that hiring Tyndall was a mistake. He insists it is a mistake he will learn from, however.

“You’re always learning,” he said. “When you stop learning you need to get measured for the casket.”


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