For University of Tennessee sports fans weary of an athletic program plagued by NCAA violations and player arrests in recent years, Donnie Tyndall’s words must have come as some measure of comfort.
“Our guys will handle themselves in the community in a first-class manner,” Tyndall proclaimed at Tuesday’s press conference, during which he was introduced as the next head coach of the men’s basketball team. “We’re not going to have thugs, we’re not going to have renegades as part of our program. It won’t happen on my watch.”
Tyndall takes over for Cuonzo Martin, who left UT last week to run the men’s basketball program at the University of California. During his three years at UT, Martin was charged with guiding the program out of the shadow created by his predecessor Bruce Pearl. Pearl was fired in 2011 after lying to the NCAA during an investigation into recruiting violations at Tennessee.
But Tyndall is not without his own experience with the NCAA. While coaching at Morehead State, Tyndall’s program was investigated for major violations regarding a booster. Tyndall accepted responsibility for the incident, and the school was docked one basketball scholarship. “I’m one of those guys, I don’t shy away from responsibility,” he told the crowd at Pratt Pavilion Tuesday, “I learned from it, I grew from it and I certainly don’t expect to ever go through it again.”
In February, several current and former members of the football team were either cited or arrested on alcohol-related charges after police broke up an off-campus party. The arrests follow a five-year period in which the headlines have often featured UT football players charged with a variety of crimes, from public intoxication to attempted armed robbery.
The son of teachers, Tyndall says his program will also emphasize academics. “Our kids will go to class, they will be on time, they will value an education,” he said. “and they will leave the University of Tennessee with a degree in hand, I can assure you that.”
Tyndall says 21 of the 22 seniors he’s had during his eight-year run as a head coach have earned their degrees.