April 22, 2014
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Donnie Tyndall didn't need an education on The University of Tennessee.
He knew about the University and its basketball legacy thanks in part to following the career of Pat Summitt.
"I grew up admiring, and still do, the women's program and Coach Summitt, I can't wait to meet her. When you talk about eight national championships and over 1,000 wins it's just absolutely amazing."
He grew up watching Tony White as he led the Volunteers on the court in the 1980s, one in a list of legendary players he mentioned while at the podium, before saying he hoped to add a few players to that legacy.
He saw Tennessee as an assistant coach at LSU under John Brady, an experience that showed him where he wanted his career to go.
"I was the youngest assistant at that time at 25 years old in the SEC," he said of his time on Brady's staff. "I had a dream of one day becoming a head coach at this level."
He was watching as his new team made its run to the Sweet 16 and bean his introductory press conference by acknowledging the the team and leading in a round of applause for its accomplishment.
Shortly after that run, Tyndall had the opportunity to interview for another job, a good opening that would have been a move up for he and his family, but there was something about it that just didn't feel right.
"I went down and did the interview and came back up and my daughters said 'What did you think, dad?'" he said, recalling the story form the coaches' convention surrounding the Final Four. "I said 'I don't think that's the right spot for daddy. I think maybe something down the road will be a better fit.'"
At the time, he had heard rumors that the Tennessee job might open up, but that door closed and Tyndall returned to Mississippi, ready to start another off season as the head coach of Southern Mississippi. A week later, daughter Gracie sent him a text message.
"She said in capital letters, 'THE TENNESSEE JOB IS OPEN, HINT, HINT,'" he recalled. "So you never hope that a guy leaves or monitor those situations, I had enough on my plate at Southern Miss, but certainly this was a job that was on my radar. And Gracie's too."
Tennessee fans on social media had proclaimed Gracie a Vol For Life before Tyndall even stepped off the podium. That passion is the biggest factor that put the job on Tyndall's radar.
"The fan base, the passion that our fans have," he said of Tennessee. "When you can get 21,000 in the gym every night, that's awfully appealing."