Donnie Tyndall hasn’t been banished to the island of Elba. The former Tennessee coach still lives in Knoxville. But right now, he might as well be marooned on a distant outpost. He’s currently in the midst of a one-year exile from college basketball and it could become longer if he can’t sway the NCAA.
The accusations that led to his firing in March are damning. They are accusations of multiple NCAA infractions, which allegedly occurred when he was at Southern Mississippi. Accusations that Tyndall says are not the complete truth.
“I’m looking forward to an opportunity – when all this is finalized – to be able to say things that I haven’t been able to discus in months,” the 45-year-old said. “I can assure you this: 99 percent of everything that has been written and said about me is untrue.”
He’s fighting for his livelihood. This is the first time he has been out of coaching since he began his career in 1994 as a junior college assistant.
Tyndall is expected to meet with the NCAA in late January. There is the possibility that he could be hit with a ‘show-cause’ penalty, which would render him virtually unhireable in the college ranks for the duration of the punishment.
Kelvin Sampson went to the NBA after getting a five-year show-cause penalty for recruiting violations at Indiana involving impermissible phone calls. He’s back in college, in his second season at Houston.
Bruce Pearl went to ESPN during his three-year sentence. He was fired from Tennessee for lying to NCAA investigators, but returned to coach Auburn in 2014.
Given the severity of the allegations, it’s likely that Tyndall will receive some sort of sanctions. It’s unclear if the NCAA will choose the nuclear option. When asked to assess his chances, Tyndall would only say: “I certainly hope to be coaching in the near future.”
The NCAA did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
While he waits, Tyndall keeps busy. He will be co-hosting a television show in Knoxville and he’s an associate athletic director at an NAIA school, Tennessee Wesleyan College. But that doesn’t fill the void. He said he has received words of encouragement and support from his coaching brethren including John Calipari and Rick Pitino.
Tyndall said Calipari urged him to ‘stay positive.’
He has also heard from his former boss. Morehead State athletic director Brian Hutchinson has known Tyndall for over 20 years, dating to when they were students at Morehead. In 2006, Hutchinson hired Tyndall who turned one of the worst programs in the country into a two-time NCAA tournament participant behind Kenneth Faried.
Tyndall had 96 victories in his first five seasons as a coach. Pitino had 91 in his first five. Tyndall’s 13th-seeded Eagles stunned Pitino’s No.4-seeded Louisville team 62-61 in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
It’s the biggest victory in Morehead history. Tyndall’s future was bright.
“I know what his dreams were,” Hutchinson said. “He was able to achieve those, and then they were gone pretty quick.”
Under Tyndall, the program also committed NCAA violations. In 2010, Morehead was placed on probation due to major infractions involving a booster. Tyndall accepted responsibility for those violations.
Tyndall left for Southern Mississippi in 2011 and spent two seasons there before going to Tennessee. His stint at Tennessee lasted only the 2014-15 season due to his firing in March.
The allegations that got Tyndall fired include academic fraud, impermissible financial aid and obstructing the NCAA investigations. In July, Southern Mississippi received a notice of allegations from the NCAA.
The document says Tyndall “obstructed the enforcement staff’s investigation when he deleted pertinent emails and when he provided false or misleading information to the enforcement staff and the institution.”
According to a report at the time of Tyndall’s firing on tennessean.com, “In his March 16 interview with the NCAA, Tyndall acknowledged he had deleted the emails, according to the letter of termination he received from UT.”
Tyndall insists there is another side to this story. He’s eager to tell it but right now he’s “not talking specifics about the case.” Without on-the-record details refuting the NCAA’s case, it’s understandable why people don’t believe Tyndall.
Until this is resolved, the coach remains in exile.
“My one passion in life is coaching basketball,” Tyndall said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through; not just in my career but in my life. The bottom line is that you have to trust God has a plan, which I do.”