Tennessee seeking stability after recent coaching turnover
As it searches for its third coach in as many years, Tennessee must find a candidate willing to overlook the program's recent instability.
Tennessee is launching another search after firing Donnie Tyndall due to the likelihood the NCAA would determine he committed major violations while coaching Southern Mississippi from 2012-14.
Volunteers athletic director Dave Hart believes the position remains attractive even after all the recent turnover.
''We have history and tradition here unlike just about anybody else,'' Hart said. ''If you look in the SEC, Kentucky is obvious with their history and tradition, but we can get in that arena with anybody.''
Tennessee has gone at least as far as the NCAA regional semifinals four of the last nine years. Although Tennessee's average home attendance of 15,064 this season was its lowest since 2004-05, it still ranked 13th nationally for its 10th straight top-15 finish.
Hart also said he's been told Tennessee isn't at risk of any NCAA sanctions associated with the investigation of Tyndall's Southern Mississippi tenure.
ESPN and SEC Network analyst Darrin Horn, a former coach at South Carolina and Western Kentucky, says he considers Tennessee one of the better jobs in the conference.
''Kentucky's Kentucky, and because of Billy (Donovan) being there and what he's done, Florida's probably second in line,'' Horn said. ''But I think you can make the argument that (Tennessee) is one of the top jobs in the SEC, right there at the top with those schools.''
But the next coach still could face a challenge establishing continuity at a program known for all its recent transition. Tennessee is seeking its fourth coach in six years.
Bruce Pearl was fired in 2011 amid an NCAA investigation. Pearl was replaced by Cuonzo Martin, who left last year after three seasons. Tennessee went 16-16 under Tyndall this season and will lose all-Southeastern Conference guard Josh Richardson to graduation.
Horn cited the recent turnover and the loss of Richardson as evidence that Tennessee's situation ''is not a deal where it's going to be a quick fix.''
''That changes the approach and I think you have to understand that going into it, but in my mind it doesn't make it a lesser job,'' Horn said. ''I think it's a terrific job.''
Hart, who will use a search firm for the first time in his career, says he won't hire anyone with a history of NCAA violations. Tyndall already had coached a Morehead State program that had gone on probation before he ever arrived at Southern Mississippi or Tennessee. Hart also says he wants an enthusiastic coach ''who has a consistent track record of success.''
The fact that he hired a coach who had to be fired after one season has put a spotlight on Hart, who already was receiving criticism for some segments of Tennessee's fan base for his decision to eliminate the Lady Vols nickname for all women's sports other than basketball next year.
Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek has offered his support of Hart by noting the athletic department's improved budget situation and other factors.
''Dave is committed to clean programs and enforces discipline,'' Cheek said in a statement. ''And most important to me, our academic achievement is the best it's ever been. There will always be difficult issues to handle, but we are headed in the right direction.''
The upheaval in the basketball program isn't unusual for Tennessee, which recently had similar turnover in its football program. Butch Jones became the Vols' fourth football coach in six seasons when he made his Tennessee debut in 2013.
Tennessee believes it finally found its guy in Jones, who ended the Vols' string of four straight losing seasons last year and earned a two-year extension to a contract that now runs through 2020. Hart now must find a basketball coach who can develop into a long-term solution.