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Cuonzo Martin and Tennessee parting ways is good for everyone involved

Apr 15, 2014, 3:56 PM EDT


AP Photo

Tennessee underachieved under Cuonzo Martin.

I mean, that much is pretty inarguable at this point, isn’t it?

The Vols finished this season No. 7 in KenPom’s rating, ahead of the likes of UConn, Michigan State, Michigan and Kentucky, and were one of just five teams — along with Louisville, Florida, Arizona and Wichita State — to be ranked in the top 20 of adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

In other words, based on KenPom’s ratings, Tennessee should have been a Final Four contender, yet they needed a lifeline from the NCAA to sneak into the First Four of the NCAA tournament before putting together a run to the Sweet 16 that got Martin in the mix at Marquette and hired at Cal.

That came a season after Martin ended up in the NIT, and while Tennessee basketball doesn’t exactly have the kind of tradition that Kentucky does, they do have a fan base that’s passionate and crazy and coming off of the high that was Bruce Pearl’s tenure. He had them a possession away from the Final Four. He had them ranked No. 1 in the country. It’s hard to go back to Golden Corral once you get used to Morton’s.

Tennessee went 24-13 this season. They lost to UTEP and Vanderbilt. They were swept by Texas A&M. Even with the trip to the Sweet 16, Cuonzo would have been on the hot seat if he didn’t make the tournament in 2015.

It’s not surprising that fans wanted him out, especially with the prospect of Bruce Pearl returning to the sideline. But that doesn’t excuse the way that they made it known, which included no less than 36,000 signatures on a petition to have Martin fired that circulated while the Vols were still fighting for a spot on the bubble. There have even been reports that boosters for the school revoked Martin’s ability to use their private planes for recruiting.

If that’s not a clear sign that Martin was unwanted in Knoxville, I’m not sure what is.

His player’s noticed, too. Look at the reactions of the guys on his final Tennessee team after news broke that he would be leaving:

And then there is this from Jarnell Stokes:

Martin wasn’t getting the job done at Tennessee. Assuming Martin had stayed at Tennessee, it wouldn’t have been wrong to put him on the hot seat entering next season, and it wouldn’t have been all that unfair if Tennessee had fired him if the Vols missed out on the NCAA tournament.

But think about it like this: Martin up and left on his team without telling anyone. He was not there when the team was told that he would no longer be their coach. And yet, none of the players seem upset about the decision with four of them supporting their former coach publicly — and unsolicited.

That should tell you just how bad things had gotten in Knoxville.

This was a marriage that needed to end, and all parties involved a) deserve blame, and b) are now probably better off.

  1. coryfor3 - Apr 15, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    He’s right to get out of there. Tennessee and its fans treated him badly and the boosters’ actions were just a way to force him out. There is no excuse for the way they treated Martin and I don’t want to even get into speculating at the possible reasons. I completely disagree that he wasn’t “getting the job done” there. What is getting the job done there? Tennessee is not a basketball school nor an especially attractive place for recruits and has no real natural recruiting territory. Do they expect someone to step in and make the creamsicles a perennial national title contender? Martin will do great at Cal and its a better working environment. Now let’s see what Tennessee thinks they can that is a better option. No one who is a top candidate is going to be busting down doors to get to Tennessee. Laughable situation there and they brought it on themselves.

    • recordahit - Apr 15, 2014 at 10:05 PM

      Coryfor3…The only thing laughable is your rediculous comment. “No one will be busting down doors”. Tennessee had enough talent to win it all..and looked like no more than a slightly better than average team until three weeks before the end of the season. For a million bucks a year and then candidates or not..great prospective coaches will come knocking. The coach to succeed Pearl..knew he had a tough climb..and I am sure Martin was aware of course coming in.. Martin was fortunate to get the best of all possible outcomes. Half this years BEST four starters..were hold overs from the Pearl era. The next coach Tennessee hires..won’t have the ghost of Bruce Pearl following him around at every turn.. That’s a big plus for who ever they hire. We’re over it thanks to Auburn..but it was an exciting can’t blame anyone for not forgetting…the guy was a rock star.

      • coryfor3 - Apr 16, 2014 at 10:21 AM

        If Bruce Pearl is the standard of excellence at Tennessee, that says a lot about the fans and boosters there.

  2. barnesaintnoble - Apr 15, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    Those are some high character, intelligent players that Martin brought to Tennessee. Their reaction combined with how they fought back to almost beat Michigan in the tournament tells me all I need to know about the program Martin was building at Tennessee. And because of some of their fans, the boosters and AD he still walked away. Good luck with new coach!

  3. fnc111 - Apr 15, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    Southern racists.

    • showtime1911 - Apr 15, 2014 at 10:23 PM

      You hit it on the head. I use to live their and they have very little patience for brothers. Good move by Martin . This isn’t the early 60s well that’s I forgot that’s only if u live in Knoxville .

  4. jsk17 - Apr 15, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    I think it’s a great perspective from the author. Last year was probably the best roster he’ll ever have and I don’t think being a bubble team is an accomplishment. 3 senior starters and 2 3yr starting juniors, tells me this is his pinnacle at UT. Pearl raised the bar, and that type of mediocrity is unacceptable. There is a certain expectation and accountability level when you make 7 figures. I’m sure the petition was tough on him and his family, but the ability to deal with adversity is a necessary trait for any coach, let alone one at a major college program. Good for him for leveraging a great 10 day run into a job that was a better fit for him and his family. He was never going to get UT to where they wanted to be, and can be. Hopefully the next guy can not only handle but embraces the challenge in front of him.

    • wgward - Apr 15, 2014 at 11:07 PM

      Because of that ill-advised 26,000 strong petition vs. Martin, not only coaches, but also players, will double clutch before choosing to go to UT: good luck.

      By the way, it is called The Golden Rule.

    • pay80 - Apr 15, 2014 at 11:17 PM

      I understand Martin’s reason for leaving. He was treated poorly. Also, Cal has a track record for being patient with coaches.

      I disagree with saying that they underachieved. Yes, they were 7th in the KenPom ratings after all the games were played. Before the tournament, they were in the mid teens and they were in the high teens/early 20s before the SEC Tournament. Now, I don’t care for UT basketball or the SEC, but the conference was treated very poorly by the committee and that was reflected in the seeding and placement of two teams. To suggest they should be a Final Four contender because of their KenPom rating and not factoring in the murderer’s row that was the Midwest Region (including 6 of KenPom’s top 13 teams) is a little irresponsible.

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