KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall believes he has a mature team that can deal with the off-court distractions facing his program.
Two members of Tyndall's staff have resigned since the Nov. 6 announcement that the NCAA was conducting a review of Southern Mississippi, where Tyndall worked the last two seasons. That leaves the Vols (1-1) adjusting to a revamped staff as they get ready to open the Orlando Classic on Thursday against Santa Clara (2-2).
"It's just been one of those weeks that you get through some adversity, you face the distractions, hit it right between the eyes," Tyndall said. "Our team has had great practices. Our team, I think, is a mature team for even our lack of experience and not (having) a lot of veterans, so I think we're fine."
The school announced Monday that assistant coach Adam Howard was resigning "effective immediately" for personal reasons. R.J. Rush, a special assistant to Tyndall, resigned on Nov. 10 and cited family reasons for his departure. Both Howard and Rush worked with Tyndall at Southern Mississippi.
Howard had worked primarily with Tennessee's guards.
"I got pretty close to him," senior guard Josh Richardson said. "He's a great guy. He's a good coach. I'm going to miss him, but it's about basketball. We've got to turn around and go play these ball games."
Tyndall declined to comment on the departures of Howard and Rush aside from saying the changes weren't affecting the team's approach and expressing confidence in Beau Braden, who is filling Howard's role on the staff. Howard hasn't responded to a message seeking comment.
"I think everyone is focused and ready to go," Tyndall said.
Tennessee's returning players have dealt with off-court issues before. Last season, the Vols faced the uncertainty surrounding coach Cuonzo Martin as fans circulated an online petition to bring back Bruce Pearl, who had preceded Martin as Tennessee's coach. Tennessee made a late surge to finish 24-13 and reach the NCAA tournament regional semifinals, and Martin left for California after the season.
That experience gives the Vols confidence they can thrive under these types of circumstances.
"Maybe it can be a good distraction this year again," Richardson said with a laugh. "Let's hope it is."
Richardson is one of only four returning scholarship players from last season's team. Richardson says he has given the newcomers advice on how to approach these kinds of situations.
"I don't want to try to make too big a deal out of it," Richardson said. "I don't want to freak those guys out, so I just told them in the film room yesterday that whatever goes on, the 15 of us are still brothers, so just stay together."
Braden, who had been working as Tennessee's video coordinator, wasn't part of Tyndall's staff at Southern Mississippi. He spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach at Morehead State and previously worked as a director of basketball operations and graduate manager during Tyndall's final season at Morehead State in 2011-12.
Tyndall said that Ty Proffitt, who had been working as a graduate manager, will be the new video coordinator. Tyndall said Rush's old position likely will remain unfilled until the spring.