Vols coach Cuonzo Martin staying; UT 'working' on contract

Vols coach Cuonzo Martin staying; UT 'working' on contract

April 2nd, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin watches his team during practice for the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal college basketball tournament game in Indianapolis.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should the Vols give Cuonzo Martin a raise to keep him?

KNOXVILLE - He's staying at Tennessee after all.

A little more than 12 hours after Cuonzo Martin removed his name from consideration for the basketball coaching vacancy at Marquette, UT confirmed that he would remain with the Volunteers.

A source close to the coach told the Times Free Press shortly after midnight Tuesday morning that Martin was taking his name out of consideration for the opening with the Golden Eagles, and both Martin, who led Tennessee to the NCAA Sweet 16 this season, and athletic director Dave Hart released statements confirming that he is staying.

Hart also said the university is "working on modifications" for Martin's contract and will release the details of those changes when they are finalized.

"We are proud that Cuonzo Martin will continue to lead our men's basketball program," Hart said in the statement. "His three Tennessee teams have finished in the upper echelon of the SEC, and each of those teams entered the month of March in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. His third team excelled in the postseason.

"We have high standards and expectations for continued improvement and results in every sport in our program. Having said that, our strong finishes within the conference the past three years, prioritizing academics, representing the university with class and operating within the parameters dictated by the University of Tennessee and the NCAA matters greatly.

"Additionally, the social culture of the men's basketball program has vastly improved under Cuonzo's leadership."

Though it's unclear if Martin had a formal offer to replace Buzz Williams, who took the Virginia Tech job in mid-March after six seasons in Milwaukee, reports by ESPN and CBS Sports suggested the Marquette job was Martin's to take.

Instead, with Martin out of the running, the Big East Conference program hired longtime Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski on Tuesday.

The 42-year-old Martin has two years left on the five-year contract he signed when he was hired to replace the popular Bruce Pearl in 2011. After two National Invitation Tournament appearances in his first two seasons, Martin was given a $50,000 raise but no extension to his contract.

His third-year salary of $1.35 million is the 11th-highest in the SEC, but that is likely to change. Martin's UT records are 63-41 overall and 32-20 in the SEC, and he guided the Vols to just their seventh appearance in the NCAA tournament's round of 16.

After meeting with Marquette officials Sunday and with Tennessee personnel Monday, Martin appeared at one point likely to leave.

"The past three seasons here at the University of Tennessee have been extremely rewarding for me, my family and my staff," Martin said. "We accepted some unique challenges when we took over this program in 2011, but our recent run to the Sweet 16 proves that our blueprint for achieving excellence both on and off the court can generate tremendous results.

"Just as our players have 'bought in' and made a commitment to doing things the right way in all aspects of their lives, my staff and I feel a strong commitment to them and their continued growth as men."

Tennessee's season ended last Friday night with a 73-71 loss to Michigan in the Midwest Region semifinal. The Vols will lose three starters, including All-SEC top scorer Jordan McRae and seniors Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, and add four signees, all three-star prospects: point guard Larry Austin, wing Jordan Cornish and forwards C.J. Turman and Phil Cofer.

The Vols also hope Jarnell Stokes will return for his senior season instead of entering the NBA draft to form the nucleus of a next season's team along with classmate Josh Richardson, who averaged 19.2 points in Tennessee's four NCAA tournament games, and five-star 2013 recruit Robert Hubbs, who is coming off shoulder surgery.

"Tennessee is where I want to be," Martin said. "That has never changed. I have said many times over the past three years that I believe we have the resources and support to be the last team standing, and that belief has never been stronger.

"I appreciate the unrivaled passion of this fan base and feel the responsibility to make those fans proud. I also appreciate the commitment that the university and athletic department leadership have shown to this staff. I am excited about the future and remain honored to be the head basketball coach at Tennessee."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.