Blevins: Vols nab 'another Butch'

Donnie Tyndall

InsideTennessee brings you not only the best, but the most unique coverage of Tennessee athletics around. Scroll down to read a column about the similarities between Donnie Tyndall and Butch Jones.

Tennessee director of athletics Dave Hart took to his basketball coaching search with a precise profile in mind.

Hart wanted to find a winner, a recruiter, a coach who truly wanted to be at Tennessee and a coach who understands the tradition weaved into the fabric of the Vols' vibrant orange jerseys.

He was looking for the basketball version of Butch Jones.

And Hart believes he found just that in former Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall.

"He reminds me a lot of another coach that is on our staff, who coaches on the gridiron," Hart bluntly said a mere two minutes into his introduction speech. "I saw a lot of similarities."

Those similarities became apparent right away.

Tyndall took the podium — wide-eyed and oozing with excitement — and immediately took a playful jab at Jones, sharply hitting every vowel along the way in his punchy Midwestern twang.

The 43-year-old Tyndall was born and raised along the banks of the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Mich., which is less than an hour east of Jones' hometown of Saugatuck.

"All the Grand Rapids guys think those Saugatuck guys are really soft," Tyndall said. "So, let him know that, would you?"

The geographical connection is obvious. As is the way both pronounce "Vols" closer to "Vaaaal."

Perhaps the two can share a few stories about going to the beaches of Lake Michigan or the same state parks as kids.

But that similarity is irrelevant.

It won't help Tyndall succeed where Cuonzo Martin couldn't.

The other similarities the two men share, however, just may.

Humbled, appreciative and thankful — those are the words Tyndall uses to describe his opportunity to lead Tennessee's men's basketball team into its next era.

Like Jones, Tyndall wants to be here.

In varying ways, both men called Tennessee their dream jobs when they posed for pictures with Hart at their respective introductory press conferences.

"Tennessee, to me, is a destination job," Tyndall said Tuesday.

"This is my dream job," Jones said back in December 2012.

Both shied away from other jobs — Colorado for Jones, Tulsa for Tyndall — for the chance to land at Tennessee.

And both spoke of lofty goals when they finally got the job they'd been longing for.

"This is the University of Tennessee, you can compete to go to the Final Four and you can compete to win a national championship and that is my plan," Tyndall said.

"We'll be working to be champions each and every day," Jones said.

Wanting to be at Tennessee is great.

It's certainly a step in the right direction. Some could say the past two football and basketball coaches didn't feel as strongly. Passion and desire can go a long way, providing that extra fuel to stay hungry.

Saying the right things is good, too. But as the age-old saying goes, talk is cheap.

Can you walk the walk?

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JONES
Jones has put his dreams and goals in motion, making waves by finding immediate recruiting success and also doubling as a well-oiled PR machine along the way, uniting a tough-luck fanbase with endless energy, speaking engagements and quirky sayings.

Upon first glance, Tyndall looks like he's capable of doing just that.

Don't believe me? Watch that Harlem Shake video.

Yes, Tyndall has a larger-than-life personality that appears capable of luring recruits and revitalizing a football-crazed town. And he knows exactly where to start.

"Recruiting-wise we are going to recruit the best players in America. We will never-ever walk into a gym and take second fiddle or be okay with finishing second on anyone we recruit," Tyndall said. "When we walk in with that T on our chest, people are going to say, `Oh boy, here comes Donnie and his crew, we better lace them up,' because we are going to compete everyday relentlessly on the recruiting trail. We have to start that right here in our home state."

Sound familiar?

The similarities go on and on and on.

Both self-made, Michigan boys were hired as up-and-coming coaches who won big in lower-profile jobs before making the leap to the unforgiving SEC.

Both enter the job eager to prove themselves, possessing a chip-on-their-shoulder mentality, per se.

Compared to past jobs, both must feel fortunate to hit the recruiting trail selling the University of Tennessee instead of Louisiana Left At The Light.

Tyndall certainly feels like he hit the jackpot. He spoke of pulling over at gas stations for three-hour naps on recruiting road trips. At the lower levels, there are no private jets and endless booster bank accounts.

Tyndall developed a highly respected recruiting reputation without the jets — not to mention an actual basketball facility.

"I've been at two schools that didn't even have a practice facility so now that I can talk about that and a weight room," Tyndall said. "Trust me, we'll be able to sell Tennessee just fine."

Also like Jones, Tyndall wasn't the first choice.

Just as he did before settling on Jones, Hart swung and missed at some fan-friendly, headline-grabbing names.

Both men handled the whole sloppy-seconds question identically — Jones pointing to his wife, Tyndall to his fiancé — and saying they weren't likely their first choice, either.

They deflected the question with a smile and laugh because it doesn't matter to them.

What matters is that they're here. They don't care how many others had to say "no." They're just glad they did.

And as their time at Tennessee progresses — as each gets their chance to mold their programs — odds are Dave Hart will be glad he was told no by more "qualified" candidates, as well.


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