New Tennessee men’s basketball coach Donnie Tyndall leaves no doubt what he thinks of Barry Wortman, the Blackman boys basketball coach.
Make that both professionally and personally, a relationship started when Tyndall was an assistant coach at MTSU under Kermit Davis and Wortman was then the coach at La Vergne High.
Many a night they talked basketball and life. That friendship built on respect and trust grew to when Tyndall was named head coach in 2006 at Morehead State, his alma mater, he brought Wortman with him as the top assistant coach.
A former assistant at Tennessee State, Wortman had college coaching experience. But he also loves coaching high school basketball, so he stayed only three years at Morehead State before returning to coach high school hoops in Tennessee, first at Oak Ridge for a year and the past four seasons at Blackman.
“Barry Wortman is the best assistant coach I’ve ever had,” said Tyndall, who spent six seasons at Morehead State and two more at Southern Miss before being named head coach at Tennessee last Tuesday.
“He was absolutely amazing my first three years at Morehead State and he helped us get that going,”;Tyndall added. “Our first NCAA tournament (in 2009), he was a part of that.”
So, it was no surprise Tyndall and Wortman talked about reuniting on the new Volunteers’ coaching staff in some capacity, but the timing just wasn’t right for either one.
Wortman just led Blackman to the Class AAA state championship, the first high school boys state title for Rutherford County in 49 years. He became just the third coach in Tennessee prep basketball history to win both boys and girls state titles. He led Hickman County girls to the Class AAA crown in 1997.
Tyndall is bringing three assistants from his staff at Southern Miss. He also hired OIe Miss assistant Al Pinkins, also a former Blue Raiders assistant, to be his lead recruiter.
“We certainly had some discussions,” Tyndall said of Wortman, who will be best man in Tyndall’s wedding in August. “The problem I was stuck in was that my assistants were so good at Southern Miss. I don’t have to be, but I want to be loyal to those guys.”
That doesn’t mean the possibility still doesn’t exist of Wortman joining Tyndall some day. While we all know Wortman is happy and in his element coaching the Blaze, the opportunity to coach on a Southeastern Conference staff led by a close friend holds quite an allure.
“It just wasn’t feasible this time,” Tyndall said of hiring Wortman. “And his boss there in Murfreesboro may not want to hear this, but at some point I am definitely going to try to steal Barry Wortman away and get him here to campus.”
The reunion of Tyndall and Pinkins was a home run for Tennessee basketball. Pinkins is an outstanding recruiter and diligent coach who has deep connections throughout the South.
Better yet, like Tyndall, he’s a nice guy who works his butt off.
“There’s not another finer person out there than Al Pinkins,” Tyndall said. “He’s got a beautiful family – three young boys. And I said, ‘Al, if we can ride this thing out long enough for six or eight more years, I’ll have your three boys in my backcourt and my power forward, and we’ll be in great shape.’ ”
Initial recruiting will be essential for Tyndall, who released all four incoming recruits signed by former Vols coach Cuonzo Martin, now California’s coach. Conversely, Tyndall said all five Southern Miss signees have contacted him about coming to Tennessee.
“Al’s one of those guys, he’s got a great way about him,” Tyndall said. “He works extremely hard. He’s connected here in the deep South. We’ll be fine with him leading the way recruiting-wise.”
Greg Pogue, former executive sports editor at The DNJ, is host of the morning sports talk show on 94.9 FM Game 2. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ThePoguester.