KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The year was 1997. LSU hired John Brady to replace basketball coach Dale Brown, no easy assignment.
Brady chose Kermit Davis Jr. and Butch Pierre as assistants and needed a hard-working, young up-and-comer to complete his staff.
“I said there’s a great one at St. Catharine,” Davis recalled Wednesday.
Donnie Tyndall, at age 26, had made good on his first head-coaching opportunity. He prodded little St. Catharine College in Springfield, Ky., to a 30-5 record and the national junior college tournament.
“I was going to hire him at Idaho,” Davis said, “but then I chose to go to LSU as associate head coach.
“So I told John about him. We flew up to Kentucky and John fell in love with Donnie.”
Thus Tyndall became the youngest and lowest-ranking assistant on Brady’s staff. He was the brunt of all the gags. But it was the SEC. It was the big time.
Five schools later, Tyndall is the head coach at Tennessee. His pal Davis has been head coach at Middle Tennessee State since 2002.
Davis was happy to see Tyndall step to the podium Tuesday in Knoxville. After 12 years down the road in Murfreesboro, Davis has a solid read on the UT job, both the good and the bad aspects.
Davis understands the challenges Tyndall faces, both on and off the court. But he’s confident Tyndall will succeed.
“There was no better fit,” Davis said. “I don’t know (UT football coach) Butch Jones at all, but I’ve watched it from afar and they have a lot of the same qualities.”
So expect Tyndall to recruit like he’s possessed and still find time to connect with the fan base.
Tyndall is no stranger in Tennessee, thanks to Davis. Davis was so impressed with how he watched Tyndall grow in their four seasons at LSU he wanted Tyndall’s help when he got to MTSU.
Tyndall had left LSU for Idaho, but after one year reconnected with Davis at Middle as his associate head coach.
“The first time I met him he had a charisma about him,” Davis said. “I really believe his work ethic is unmatched. He’s good with people and he cares about taking care of all areas of the program.”
Davis praises Tyndall as a teacher on the practice floor. He liked his ability to present a scouting report to the team.
“He’s very detail-oriented,” Davis said, “but gives guys a lot of freedom to play. That’s an art in our game.”
Tyndall is, in Davis’ opinion, almost the complete package. Almost — he’s a terrible golfer.
Tyndall approached Davis about learning golf, all the better to one day mingle with boosters.
“I took him out to Stones River Country Club,” Davis said. “He’s wound tight. He’s got no patience. I think he quit at the break. He’s strictly basketball.”
Well, there has been a rumor about fishing.
“It better be a guided trip,” Davis said.
When it comes to bridging the transition at Tennessee, Tyndall is the guide.
He inherits a team that loses 71 percent of its scoring and 69 percent of its rebounding. Two of Cuonzo Martin’s four signees were granted a release Wednesday. That leaves four — and counting — open scholarships.
Tyndall’s recruiting energy is legendary. Davis hopes UT fans are sophisticated enough to understand it will take time to increase the talent pool — like they have been so far with Butch Jones.
“People (make a big deal) out of hitting a home run at a one-hour press conference, Davis said. “Give him two or three months. Let him get around the state and just work.
“He’s going to really be liked.”