May 19, 2014
By: Brian Rice
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Much like the student-athletes they mentor, college coaches are always learning.
Some coaches read books. Some go on tours to talk with past and present coaches at all levels of their sport. Others step back and take a wider look at a variety of sports. This off-season, Butch Jones set his sights on basketball coaches. In the midst of his exploration of the craft, Tennessee hired a new basketball coach, and Jones' off-season project helped form a quick bond with Donnie Tyndall.
"It's been great spending time with him, talking philosophy about developing toughness and mental conditioning, getting to know him not just as a coach, but as a person," Jones said at the Big Orange Caravan stop Monday night. "We've really hit it off, so I looking forward to growing and elevating our relationship. There's so many parallels between basketball and really any sport, really, with the grind that it is and working through some things."
The new Vols hoops coach, a fellow Michigan native, has been thankful for the attention.
"Coach Jones has been fantastic," Tyndall said. "He's spent a lot of time with me, probably too much with as busy as he is. He's a guy that has really gone out of his way to make me feel comfortable and to give me pointers and ideas. We went out to dinner the other night until about 1:00 in the morning just talking. He's been unbelievably helpful and a great friend thus far. I wish I could help him as much as he helps me."
Jones' familiarity with the art of coaching basketball runs deep. He counts Miami Heat head coach Erik Spolestra as a close friend and had the NBA title-winner in to speak to the Volunteers during fall camp last season. But Jones wanted to dig deeper this off-season.
"I wanted to study their floor command, their floor presence. In basketball, you have to coach on every single possession, how they manage the bench, how they manage the grind," Jones said. "Coach Spolestra has been a great resource, but I also went to NCAA Regionals and sat back and watched the overall coaching demeanor."
And no moment in the developing relationship with Tyndall has been wasted, not even the short trip to Chattanooga for the Caravan stop.
"On the car ride down here, we were talking about the command of timeouts and what you're doing from diagramming last-second plays, how many times do you practice them throughout the course of the season, managing the mental aspect of losing a game or winning a game and getting your team to focus on playing again in a day or two," Jones said of the trip.
The situations they entered at UT are very similar, with both coming in near the end of a recruiting period and faced with having to remake a roster with a tough Southeastern Conference schedule looming. Dealing with the whirlwind and the demands has been perhaps the biggest area where they have bonded.
"I asked him today if he was still working off of momentum, energy and the adrenaline," Jones said. "And it's all of the above. I know what he's going through. There will be nights that I'll call him at 11:00, 11:30 at night and they're still in the office grinding it out. When you talk about similarities, we're both very appreciative of the opportunity to be here at the University of Tennessee, it's a very special place."
Tyndall doesn't mind the extra commitments that come with being at that special place. He has been a star at the Caravan stops and has relished the opportunity to see the fan base up close.
"I haven't been a place where the fans are as passionate as they are here at UT," said Tyndall. "But that's exciting. I think it's fun that our fans are a little bit crazy in a good way. That excites me and certainly I'm proud to be a part of it. I'm a people person by nature, I like to get to know people and build relationships."
Shop talk and a shared home state isn't the only common ground the two coaches have found, though. Jones' time in East Tennessee has given him a leg up on another very important topic.
"I think one of the biggest things is telling him where to eat in Knoxville," he said with a laugh. "So I've given him the lay of the land in terms of restaurants."