Men's Basketball

Mark Story: Tyndall takes a risk on Southern Miss

Donnie Tyndall, named Southern Miss coach Monday, led Morehead State to two of its six NCAA Tournament wins.
Donnie Tyndall, named Southern Miss coach Monday, led Morehead State to two of its six NCAA Tournament wins. ASSOCIATED PRESS

In its entire men's basketball history, Morehead State has won 20 games or more in a season five times. During his six seasons as head man at MSU, Donnie Tyndall produced three of those seasons.

Over all eternity, Morehead has won six NCAA Tournament games. Tyndall's teams claimed two of those victories, including the epic upset of Louisville in the 2011 round of 64.

The above pretty much tells you all you need to know about the impact of Donnie Tyndall's coaching reign at Morehead.

As we learned over the weekend, Tyndall is departing the school where he played point guard in the early 1990s to become the new coach at Southern Mississippi. The 41-year-old was officially introduced as the Golden Eagles new head man at a news conference late Monday afternoon.

So for the coach who took a lightly recruited forward from New Jersey, Kenneth Faried, and a walk-on guard from Tennessee, Demonte Harper, and developed them into stars on teams that supplied some of the great athletic moments in Morehead State history, is this a good move?

From here, Southern Miss looks like more of a calculated risk than a slam dunk for Tyndall.

In the short term, Tyndall is inheriting a team that should be well positioned to win right away. Southern Miss returns four of the top six players from a squad that went 25-9 under Larry Eustachy and lost to Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament round of 64.

Over the long haul, however, Tyndall has taken a job at a school riddled with uncertainties.

In the past year, Southern Mississippi has lost its full-time AD (Richard Giannini to retirement), its head football coach (Larry Fedora to North Carolina) and its head men's hoops coach (Eustachy to Colorado State).

Last week, the Southern Mississippi president (Martha Saunders) resigned unexpectedly. The school already had an interim athletics director (Jeff Hammond). For good measure, Southern Miss also announced last week that its athletics department is running an unexpected $1 million deficit.

Across the years, anytime I spoke with Tyndall about his career ambitions, the now-former Morehead State head man always said the same things. He loved coaching at MSU, the school where he had played. As a divorced father of two daughters, he was reluctant to move away from Kentucky, where his children and their mother live.

But Tyndall also said his ultimate professional goal was to become the head coach someplace where you can realistically aspire to make Final Four trips.

Southern Miss — which has never won an NCAA Tournament game in three all-time trips — does not appear to be that place.

Still, it is a significant climb up the coaching ladder. Tyndall is leaving a job in the Ohio Valley Conference, the 21st-ranked league in the country last season according to realtimerpi.com, for one in Conference USA, the ninth-ranked league.

If he can win big in Hattiesburg, Tyndall has likely put himself in a spot where his next move could be to a place where Final Four trips are a viable goal.

That's the gamble he is taking in leaving his comfort zone for a school that has a strong team returning but so many long-term unknowns.

The rumor mill is running fast and furious with names of potential Tyndall replacements at Morehead State.

Pikeville head coach Kelly Wells, a former Morehead forward who led UPike to the 2011 NAIA Division I national championship, would be a strong choice. Wells has deep ties to MSU where his father, Mickey, was once head women's hoops coach.

Tyndall's top assistant, Wade O'Connor; ex-Kentucky point guard and current Mississippi Valley State head coach Sean Woods; Alabama assistant John Brannen, another ex-Morehead player; and longtime former Mississippi State assistant Phil Cunningham (who has deep ties to the state of Kentucky) would also be solid picks as Morehead's next head coach.

As for the departing MSU coach, even allowing for the slap on the wrist from the NCAA that Tyndall's Morehead program received for recruiting irregularities (primarily centered around an MSU booster/talent scout operating in New Jersey), he set a high bar for what Morehead State can achieve on the basketball court.

With all that is unsettled at Southern Miss, this much is certain: In Donnie Tyndall, USM hired a darned good basketball coach.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments