In Cuonzo Martin’s three years with the Tennessee Volunteers, he led the team to three straight top-five finishes in the SEC. The only other SEC teams to do that in those three years were the Kentucky Wildcats and the Florida Gators. So naturally, without a well-deserved contract extension being offered, he took the safe job with the California Golden Bears, knowing that next season’s weaker team would lead to his eventual firing.
Now, the Vols have hired former Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles coach Donnie Tyndall for the head basketball coach position and although he performed well with the Golden Eagles, he’s not what Tennessee needs.
Don’t get me wrong; Tyndall is a great coach. He’s proven himself time and time again with Southern Miss in a decent Conference USA. However, one of the most important aspects of competing at a top level in college basketball is recruiting, and Tyndall is not a good recruiter.
In his time with the Golden Eagles, Tyndall has never had a three-star or better ranked recruit. That doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but in a conference where schools are pulling in five-star, first-round NBA draft picks left and right, it’s impossible to win games without elite college basketball talent.
Don’t believe me? Look at Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Kevin Stallings. Hands-down one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball, Stallings lost all of his top recruits to transfers, the pros and suspensions coming into this season. Although he had some success, he was only able to get his team to 15–14 last season. It’s impossible to win in the SEC with mediocre talent, and Tyndall hasn’t yet proven in his career that he can recruit big-time players.
I get it; Southern Miss isn’t as big of a school to recruit for as Tennessee will be for Tyndall. However, recruiting trends show up for coaches at smaller schools and continue with the next school. Will Tyndall recruit decently for the Vols? Of course. But will he recruit top-level college basketball talent? Probably not.
The reason Bruce Pearl was successful at Tennessee was coaching and recruiting; the reason that Martin had success at Tennessee was coaching and recruiting. For Tyndall on the other hand, it looks like recruiting is his major flaw.
Tennessee has the potential to be a consistent competitor in SEC Basketball, but they have to get the recruits to compete with the likes of Florida and Kentucky. Don’t expect Tyndall to be a failure, but don’t expect him to be a major success, either.
Expect it to be at least 4-5 years before he’s able to lead this team through the difficult SEC to an NCAA tournament berth, and unfortunately at a school like Tennessee, 4-5 years is far longer than the fan base and the athletic department will give a coach to prove himself.