By The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Donnie Tyndall has already revived a dormant basketball program.
That won’t be necessary at Southern Mississippi. But the upcoming challenge for the Golden Eagles’ new coach might be even greater that his remarkable turnaround story at Morehead State: Taking a Southern Miss program that just finished arguably its best season in school history to even greater heights.
The 41-year-old Tyndall admits there are high expectations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“When you take over a program that’s coming off a 25-win season and played in the NCAA tournament, of course there’s pressure to grow that and build on that,” Tyndall said. “But on the flip side, it’s nice that we have a good program in place that we can build on.”
Tyndall comes to the Golden Eagles after six seasons at Morehead State, where he finished with a 114-85 record, including a 70-40 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference. He led Morehead State to two NCAA tournament appearances, including a first-round upset over Louisville in 2011.
The success was no small feat considering Morehead State — Tyndall’s alma mater — won just four games the season before he took the job.
Now he takes over at Southern Miss for Larry Eustachy, who left to coach Colorado State earlier this month after leading the Golden Eagles to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991. The pieces are in place for Southern Miss to be good again next season with leading scorer Neil Watson and leading rebounder Jonathan Mills returning to form a talented, experienced nucleus.
Tyndall said his program-building philosophy won’t change despite Southern Miss’ recent success, though he did acknowledge seeing so much talent in the room during the first team meeting on Sunday night was a welcome change.
“The biggest difference is during my first meeting at Morehead six years ago, I didn’t care if they all left,” Tyndall said with a grin. “Last night, I didn’t want any of them to leave.”
Southern Miss interim athletic director Jeff Hammond said Tyndall was selected by a committee that interviewed eight candidates. He said Tyndall’s high graduation rates during his time at Morehead State, coupled with his ability to win basketball games, made him a perfect fit for the job.
“I don’t want to gush too much, but I think we did the right thing for this university,” Hammond said.
Hammond didn’t give many details of Tyndall’s contract except to confirm that it was a four-year deal.
Most of the returning players came for the news conference. Watson and Mills both said they were pleased with the hire.
“We got a guy of high caliber who has been to the NCAA tournament and who has won in the NCAA tournament,” Watson said. “That’s something we haven’t done yet. So with his knowledge coming in we feel we can be a lot better.”
Tyndall said one of the things that drew him to the Southern Miss job was his experience recruiting in the deep south. Before his tenure at Morehead State, he was an assistant at LSU, Idaho and Middle Tennessee.
“It had to be a special fit to leave my alma mater,” Tyndall said. “Southern Miss is a place that fits my recruiting area, they play in a great league and I think the people of Southern Miss are starved for even more, and that excites me.”
Tyndall’s success at Morehead State was largely due to one incredible recruiting find — Kenneth Faried.
Faried was a lightly recruited player who turned into a two-time OVC player of the year. He was the unquestioned star on the Morehead State team that beat Louisville in the NCAA tournament and now plays for the Denver Nuggets after being taken in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft.
Tyndall said Southern Miss has a higher recruiting profile and should be able to attract more blue-chip prospects. But he said he’ll still be searching for the next Faried every time he hits the recruiting trail.
“It’s just working hard,” Tyndall said. “The more phone calls you make, the more rocks you turn over, the more chance you’ll get lucky. That was the situation with Kenneth. You keep working and digging.”