KNOXVILLE — The timing of Cuonzo Martin's move to California this week — two weeks after it appeared he would remain Tennessee's basketball coach — came as a surprise.
Martin's decision to leave the Volunteers, though, wasn't as much of a surprise to some folks, including Tennessee predecessor Bruce Pearl, who was hired at Auburn last month.
"I wasn't surprised. I wasn't," Pearl said in an interview with Athlon Sports published Friday. "Cuonzo didn't seem to be happy there. I know they talked about the fact that he had to overcome following me, and I understand that we had success, but they still had 18,000 people come to every single game. Overcome that or not, they got great support in Knoxville, great facilities, great university.
"The embracing needs to work both ways, so I'm happy for Coach Martin. He maintained a level of success that we worked really hard to create. I'm grateful to Coach Martin as a former Tennessee head basketball coach, and a Vol for life. I'm grateful for the job he did because he kept it going.
"I wish him nothing but success at Cal, and if he wasn't happy there and he didn't feel appreciated there, then I'm glad he's not there because I want somebody there that wants to be there. So I appreciate the job he did and I'm happy for him and his family that they got the chance to move on."
As Martin's third season progressed, he indicated behind the scenes he would be open to looking to leave, and he flirted with the Marquette job shortly after Tennessee's season ended with a loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16 before ultimately removing his name from consideration for the job.
On Tuesday, he took the Cal job.
In a radio interview with Hallerin Hilton Hill on WOKI in Knoxville on Thursday, the 42-year-old coach conceded it was "probably best for both parties" that he took the job with the Golden Bears.
Martin said the online petition to rehire Pearl that gained traction and attention late in the season was not a factor in his decision to leave.
"I just really felt like it was the best thing for both parties," Martin said. "In order for the University of Tennessee, the fan base, to do what they need and what they're looking for, it's probably time to make a change, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it.
"I truly felt like [Tennessee athletic director] Dave Hart was fair with me in every way, shape or form. I thought Dave Hart gave me a tremendous opportunity. Chancellor [Jimmy] Cheek has been great.
"For me, there's no hard feelings absolutely whatsoever, and it had nothing to do with any fan petition. It was just, sometimes it's time. That's the best way to put it."
Also in that interview, Martin said Cal first made third-party contact with Martin's representation following the Vols' SEC tournament loss to Florida. Mike Montgomery retired officially after six seasons in Berkeley on April 1. Regarding his assistant coachces, Martin also told WOKI he "would like to take all of them in some capacity" with him to Cal.
Tennessee's search for a replacement remains in its early stages.
It's unlikely there have been any formal conversations with any potential candidates as of Friday evening. It doesn't appear Tennessee has narrowed its search to a smaller list of targets. Tennessee has been preparing the search and researching and gauging interest of potential targets.
The names that continue to be linked to Tennessee are Minnesota's Richard Pitino, Xavier's Chris Mack, Southern Mississippi's Donnie Tyndall, Louisiana Tech's Michael White and even Cincinnati's Mick Cronin.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ...