Cuonzo Martin is no longer the coach at Tennessee.
He’s the new head shed at the University of California. The fans of Tennessee basketball got their wish. Well, at least 36,000 who signed the petition did. Although safe to say a lot of people who did not sign were still wishing for what happened today. I am not one of those people. I firmly believe UT just set their basketball program back a few years at least and put me at a disadvantage with my UK grad wife (homecoming queen 1994, yes I married up). I’m pretty sure that’s the minority opinion at the moment; the UT BBall thing, not the married up part. But that’s not really the issue.
Where do UT fans get this sense of basketball entitlement? Other than the Pearl and Martin eras you have to go back to the 70s and the Ernie and Bernie show to find a time when UT Basketball was relevant. I mean Jerry Green took them to the tourney all 4 of his years at the helm in the late 1990s, but his ass got run out of town too. And that turned out swell. That gave us Buzz Ball. And let’s be serious, other than the one Elite 8, Pearl’s squads underperformed in tournaments, be it SEC or NCAA. Don’t believe me? Google it. You’ll be surprised at the results when UT went in as a #2 seed. (Got by #15 Winthrop on a buzzer beater, then lost to #7 Wichita St.)
So, I don’t get it. No doubt Martin is not as flashy or as emotional, but his teams played hard, they played defense, and they started to win. What’s not to like. At Missouri State, his job before UT, Martin took them from last to first in three years. Seems like a similar formula was unfolding in Knoxville. Not to mention Martin’s UT squad was squeaky clean. They graduated, stayed out of trouble off the court, and by all accounts were stand up kids. Oh yeah, they went to a Sweet 16 too. Again, what was the problem with Martin?
I will say I think Martin leaving has more to do with the UT Athletic Department than it does the fans. The petition to get Pearl back was stupid. It was nothing more than an exercise in wasted energy by a basketball illiterate, but understandably disappointed, fan base. But no one from the AD’s office came out to disavow, disassociate, dis-something with that dumb petition. No one from the AD’s office came out and said what they knew to be true. In no way shape or form was Pearl ever going to be rehired at UT.
The athletic department was silent on the issue. That’s almost the same as an endorsement of the petition. Then after the tournament and a tap dance with Marquette, Martin was offered a bump in salary and a 2yr extension to stay at UT. The bump would move him from 11th highest paid coach in a 14 team SEC, to 8th highest. Wow, what an ingrate. How could Martin not accept that sweetheart deal?
Can you do that math? Martin’s raise would still leave him behind 5 of the coaches who did not make the tournament this year. Leaving only Donovan and Calapari at the top in salary, coaches of the other two teams to make the Dance with UT. Now in no way am I saying Martin should be in Donovan and Calapari money. But come on, in no way should he be looking up at Tony Barbee (Fired from Auburn), Frank Haith at Missouri, Mark Fox at Georgia, Frank Martin at SC, Anthony Grant (fired from Alabama), and Kevin Stallings (should be fired from Vandy). Martin should be comfortably sitting with Mike Anderson of Arkansas at 2.2 million.
But money aside, only a 2yr extension for the guy who just went to the Sweet 16? What’s the point of that? So we can do this dance again in two years. I mean I get the money end of it. If you end up firing Martin, a longer-term contract means you’re paying him. In this situation AD Dave Hart is making money in the form of a buyout. That’s fools gold in my opinion. That short-term save is long term debt in the form of a higher salary to get another guy in here, and frankly more damage to UT’s already dysfunctional athletic department reputation. Let’s not even talk about the 7’1″ center that de-committed from UT to commit to the Cal Bears, or the widely tweeted, but unsubstantiated rumor that UT boosters told Dave Hart not to allow Martin to use the UT jet for recruiting trips. Who the hell knew we had a jet anyway?
Why not just say, “Cuonzo, we are not familiar with winning big games with defense and free throw shooting by kids who go to class and don’t get arrested. We don’t like it. We would prefer every game hang in the balance as we hoist up god awful contested three point shots all game long. It’s what the fans want and it’s what we want. We would like you to go elsewhere so we don’t have to pay you.” That would have been more honest. Essentially that’s what they took the round about way of doing. So Martin went elsewhere. At least 36,000 fans are publicly happy because of it. I’m happy they’re happy. (not really)
So now what guys? UT just proved they can’t or won’t pay a guy who took them to the Sweet 16. UT proved they could be silent when things get a little tough and the fans bristle and show up on the internet with virtual pitch forks and torches. How is UT gonna get anyone in here on that budget and that record of not backing their coaches?
Fans are tweeting “Go get Marshall from Wichita St. Go get Shaka Smart from VCU.” Oh really? You think those guys are taking a pay cut to coach a team where the fans have such bizarre expectations and will work publically to run your ass out of town the minute they think you lost a game you should have won while the AD stands idly by?
Pearl left the team in an NCAA sanction shambles and Martin made it to the Sweet 16 in three years. He was then nudged and winked out the door. What big name guy is coming to that situation without a huge paycheck? News flash, we don’t do huge paychecks at UT. What should have been offered to Martin won’t be close to what we’ll have to offer a “Big Name” guy. Wake up Knoxville, Jon Gruden is not coming through that door.
So y’all got your wish. Here’s hoping we all can live with the result.