KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee fired men’s basketball coach Donnie Tyndall after one season, though athletic director Dave Hart says the university never would have hired him if they knew the details of his unethical conduct at Southern Miss program during his tenure there.
Hart fired Tyndall on Friday after details of his activities at Southern Miss were revealed in an NCAA investigation, though UT officials have said they did their due diligence of vetting Tyndall’s background before hiring him.
In his termination letter, Hart said Tyndall — who was 16-16 in his lone season with the Volunteers — acknowledged deleting emails that could have been relevant to the investigation.
The Tennessee AD said it’s highly likely the NCAA will determine Tyndall failed to cooperate and that he failed to disclose “material information concerning violations of NCAA rules” during Tennessee’s hiring process.
Hart said the NCAA also will likely determine that “Level I and/or Level II violations relating to academic fraud and impermissible financial aid” occurred during Tyndall’s Southern Mississippi tenure. He added that the decision by the school is “in the best interests of the University of Tennessee.”
Tyndall had a history of being connected to NCAA violations before Tennessee hired him.
While Tyndall was at Morehead State, the program was placed on probation for two years in August 2010 because of violations related to booster activity. The school’s self-imposed penalties included the loss of one scholarship and other recruiting restrictions.
At Tyndall’s introductory news conference last year, Hart said he reviewed the situation “very thoroughly” and had no concerns about it moving forward.
“I was convinced at the time Donnie had learned from that,” Hart said Friday. “If we’d known [then] what we know now, we’d have moved in a different direction.”
Tyndall issued a statement on Friday, saying he was extremely saddened by my separation from Tennessee and apologized to his players, coaching staff and Volunteer fans.
“In the past months, I learned that violations of NCAA rules occurred in the Southern Miss men’s basketball program when I was that program’s head coach. That surprised and disappointed me,” Tyndall said. “During my time at Southern Miss, I believed that our program followed NCAA rules and worked well with the university’s administration to maintain an atmosphere of rules compliance.
“NCAA rules prevent me from being more specific. However, as the head coach at that time, I accept ultimate responsibility for violations that occurred. While at Tennessee, I cooperated with the NCAA investigation process, and I will continue to do so.
Tyndall’s contract at Tennessee allows the school to fire him for cause if he is found to have committed an NCAA Level I or Level II violation “whether the conduct occurred during [Tyndall’s] employment with the university or another NCAA-member institution.”
His successor will become Tennessee’s third coach in three years and fourth in six years.
“One of things we’ve strived for is to get stability,” Hart said. “We had hoped when we hired Donnie that we’d have that element in our men’s basketball program. That is not how it’s panned out as we stand here today.”
Bruce Pearl, who led Tennessee to NCAA tournament appearances in each of his six seasons, but was fired in 2011 amid an NCAA investigation. Tennessee replaced Pearl with Cuonzo Martin, who reached two NITs and one NCAA tournament in three years before leaving for California.
When Martin departed, Tennessee hired Tyndall from Southern Mississippi.
Tyndall was facing with questions about his actions at Southern Miss before he ever coached a game for Tennessee. Southern Mississippi revealed in November that it was under investigation.
Later that month, two members of Tyndall’s Tennessee staff left the program.
Assistant coach Adam Howard resigned for what the school described as personal reasons and special assistant to the head coach R.J. Rush stepped down, citing family reasons.
Southern Mississippi announced in January that it was self-imposing a postseason ban for its men’s basketball program and acknowledged the investigation centered on the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years, when Tyndall was the Golden Eagles’ coach.
When Southern Mississippi announced in November that it was under investigation, Tennessee athletic department spokesman Jimmy Stanton said the Vols had an “extensive vetting process” before hiring Tyndall. Stanton said the vetting process included “very specific conversations with the NCAA and school officials at Southern Miss regarding compliance during coach Tyndall’s tenure there, during which no issues were brought to our attention.”
Tyndall said at his introductory press conference in Knoxville that he was ready to move forward.
“I don’t shy away from responsibility,” Tyndall said. “I learned from it, I grew from it and I certainly never expect to go through it again.”