KNOXVILLE -- Cuonzo Martin is leaving Tennessee after all.
Less than two weeks after pulling his name out of consideration for the head coaching vacancy at Marquette, the coach, fresh off leading the Volunteers to the NCAA tournament and the Sweet 16, left to become the next coach at California on Tuesday.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart, speaking at a news conference inside Thompson-Boling Arena early Tuesday afternoon, said Martin's departure caught him a bit off guard.
"I did not know Cuonzo was involved in the California job until this morning," Hart said. "We did have a conversation, and he was very emotional. Bottom line is he said that in his heart he believed this was best for he and his family."
In three seasons with the Vols, Martin was 63-41 overall and 32-20 in the SEC with second-, fifth- and fourth-place finishes in the league. After National Invitation Tournament appearances in his first two seasons, the Vols caught fire late after scuffling to a 7-7 start in SEC play and nabbed one of the NCAA tournament's final at-large bigs.
After beating Iowa in overtime in a "First Four" game in Dayton, Tennessee beat Massachusetts and Mercer in Raleigh before losing to Michigan in the Midwest Region semifinal.
Shortly after Tennessee's tournament exit, Martin was involved with the Marquette job. He interviewed for the position left open when Buzz Williams bolted to Virginia Tech and met with Tennessee officials the following day.
He pulled his name out of consideration for the position, and the following day Martin and Hart released a joint statement in which Hart said Martin would continue to lead the Vols' program, with Martin adding Tennessee was "where I want to be."
At that point, It didn't appear this day would happen.
"I think we both thought that at that time," Hart said. "That's a fair question. Today's also a surprising day for me. I did not think we would be back into where we find ourselves today."
Hart said Tennessee had offered Martin nearly a $500,000 raise to a yearly $1.8 million salary with a two-year extension through the 2017-18 season to his contract and a $1 million buyout.
For terminating his current deal, Martin and/or Cal will owe Tennessee $1.3 million.
Hart said he met with the current team earlier Tuesday and had reached out to Tennessee's four signees -- point guard Larry Austin, swingman Jordan Cornish and forwards Phil Cofer and C.J. Turman -- and "reassured" them about the situation.
Kingsley Okoroh, the 7-foot-1 center who committed to Tennessee on Monday, already publicly switched his commitment to join Martin at Cal.
"We had a great run through the tournament," Hart said, "and I want to recognize the job that Cuonzo Martin did as our head basketball coach and that his staff did making the contributions that they collectively did in order for us to end with a very memorable basketball season.
"Cuonzo Martin is an outstanding person. He was a terrific role model for our student-athletes, specifically our men's basketball players, and I know I and everybody connected with our athletic department and university wish him nothing but success at Cal."
The California job became open when Mike Montgomery retired after the season. In six seasons under Montgomery, Cal went to the NCAA tournament four times. The Bears were 21-14 and reached the NIT quarterfinals this season.
As for Tennessee's search, Hart said he would not use a search firm, much like he did with the long and winding process that landed Butch Jones in December 2012 after Derek Dooley was fired.
Hart said the search would move quickly, but he acknowledged the Vols were "late" in the game with the Final Four come and gone and the late signing period starting on Wednesday.
More details as they develop online and in Wednesday's Times Free Press.
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 ...