published Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Martin at ease on Vols’ NCAA issues

New Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with the media following a news conference today.
New Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with the media following a news conference today.
  • Cuonzo Martin introduced as new UT coach
    Former Missouri State coach, Cuonzo Martin was introduced as the new University of Tennessee men's basketball coach Monday.

KNOXVILLE — Mike Hamilton went into his search for a new basketball coach expecting questions, and prospective candidates certainly asked the Tennessee athletic director how the Volunteers’ NCAA future might play out, as well as Hamilton’s own job.

“We talked to great coaches, and they want to know about your place as well as you knowing about them, so I went about visiting with folks, our counsel, about what we might be able to expect,” Hamilton said after introducing Cuonzo Martin as Bruce Pearl’s replacement Monday.

“No guarantees, obviously, but what we might be able to expect as we go through this process over the next several months. And I asked what can I share with the coaches that I’m visiting with, and they gave me some parameters of what they felt comfortable with me sharing, and we did that in these interviews.”

Firing Pearl, who was charged with unethical conduct in addition to other recruiting violations, might alleviate UT’s punishment when it goes before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in June.

“Mike assured me everything will work out, and I support that 100 percent,” Martin said. “Whatever happens with the NCAA, I’m here to coach a ball team and to be successful doing that. I’m really not concerned with what the NCAA has to do, what they have to say. We’ll just wait and see when that happens.”

Martin’s “memorandum of understanding” — a contract has not been finalized — at UT includes clauses that protect his position in the face of NCAA sanctions. The five-year agreement would be extended annually for each year of recruiting restrictions, scholarship reductions or a postseason ban from the NCAA.

Hamilton also addressed Pearl’s firing publicly for the first time. September support for the successful ex-UT coach wavered after two additional violations and other “non-NCAA related incidents” in the weeks leading up to the decision to fire him.

“It was more of an accumulation of events that led us to the final decision, a very difficult decision because we very much appreciate what Coach Pearl did for our program over the last six years,” Hamilton said. “I’m not willing to discuss those in detail in fairness to Coach Pearl and others involved.

“After a couple of events occurred, Chancellor [Jimmy] Cheek and I visited over the last couple of weeks before the actual change. We met again over [the March 19] weekend and decided that was the direction that we needed to go. We made the decision we made in September based upon the facts that we had and a close examination of everything and what had occurred at that point. What transpired in the last two weeks was really a result of what transpired since September.”

The negative publicity caused by Hamilton’s public foreshadowing of Pearl’s fate in a radio interview two days before the Vols’ NCAA tournament opener caused speculation about his own job security. Cheek stated his confidence in Hamilton in a statement released at Pearl’s firing.

“There were a couple of questions about the NCAA issues, but other than that there were no questions about campus leadership, athletic department leadership, anything of that nature,” Hamilton said. “I expected it, frankly, but we didn’t have any. This is such a great job and a great place, and it was such an opportunity to win.”

Said Martin: “Weighing the pros and the cons, I though this was a great situation.”

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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Livn4life said...

None of us really know what the NCAA will do. Apparently our getting rid of Coach Pearl was part of a deal which will go better for us. I am glad to see Coach Martin has a protection clause in case the hammer comes down. Given time, we will see how he fares. Personally, I hope he helps us overcome the stain of what occurred in the past several months and move on. The UT administration would likely see that as impetus for keeping Mike Hamilton as AD. Many of us highly disagree with that position but we are not in power to say. In any event, I say GO VOLS!

March 29, 2011 at 6:26 a.m.
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