Be quick, but don’t hurry, John Wooden once said, simple advice that has especially strong meaning today.
The University of Tennessee fired coach Donnie Tyndall on Friday, a preemptive strike that will allow the school to part ways with Tyndall before the NCAA hammer drops.
That, at least, is a smart move.
It also is the only smart move Tennessee has made in the past year.
Dave Hart’s decisions, indecision, actions and inaction have otherwise been a bumble-filled festival that now has Volunteers basketball players about to meet their third head coach in as many years. That’s an excellent boost to the welfare of student-athletes, isn’t it?
How did the school get here?
It wanted to be quick, but in actuality was in too much of a hurry.
In the wake of the Bruce Pearl mess, Tennessee hired Cuonzo Martin and then essentially ran him out of town, despite a Sweet 16 appearance. Fan outcry and frustration practically put an unwelcome mat at the coach’s front door, and he wisely opted to leave before he was asked to, bolting to California.
That left the school under intense heat to find the right guy.
The pressure is real these days. We live in a world where there is somehow less transparency yet more information, or at least misinformation. Planes are tracked, rumors given wings.
Where once a backroom conversation between a candidate and a school might never be made public, today every overture is common knowledge.
The heightened scrutiny turns athletic directors, and even at times university presidents, into terrified teenage boys, afraid their potential prom date is going to say no to the offer.
Public rejection dovetails into public ridicule, with every no devaluing the worth of not only the job but the school.
Well, Tennessee got jilted. Louisiana Tech’s Michael White turned down the chance to lead the Vols and quickly -- like knee-jerk quickly -- Hart offered the gig to Tyndall.
And that’s where it all went south.
Was Tyndall properly vetted? Did Hart check every box to see if Tyndall was clean? Did Tyndall tell the truth?
Only Hart can properly answer those questions, but really there’s no good answer for the AD here.
Either he knowingly hired someone under an NCAA cloud, not a terribly good choice for any school but particularly for one under its own NCAA scrutiny post-Bruce Pearl; he simply didn’t do his homework; or best case, he was blindsided like poor Doc Sadler at Southern Miss.
Or perhaps even D, all of the above.
Hiring the right person isn’t meant to be a race. The winner isn’t the person who makes the quickest hire, but the one who makes the right one.
And that can take time and yes, even a few rejections.
Today’s ADs, for the most part, aren’t the athletic department bosses of yore. They aren’t grizzled veterans with a wish list of future coaching candidates stuffed in the top drawer of their desks. Search firms handle that, giving everyone plausible deniability.
But that doesn’t excuse the bosses from doing their jobs and part of that job is to not succumb to public pressure.
Let’s be clear. The real troublemaker in all of this is Tyndall. The simplest way to avoid this mess: Follow the rules. Tyndall didn’t, not at Morehead State and not at Southern Miss, and now he’s left a trail of dust bigger than Pigpen’s stretched across the South.
But ultimately this will rest on Hart’s desk. A revolving door of coaches isn’t a good look and hiring one with an NCAA mushroom cloud, and firing him before the cloud bursts, is an even worse one.
Dave Hart wanted to make the quick hire.
Instead he was in too much of a hurry.