Wiedmer: Cuonzo Martin's exit gives UT what it deserves

Wiedmer: Cuonzo Martin's exit gives UT what it deserves

April 16th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, center, talks with Cameron Tatum (23) and Skylar McBee (13). Cuonzo is leaving the Vols for Cal.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

POLL: Are you glad to see Cuonzo Martin leave UT?


Donnie Tyndall

Southern Miss

The 43-year-old Tyndall has gone 56-17 during his first two seasons at Southern Miss, reaching the NIT quarterfinals both years. He twice guided Morehead State to the NCAA tournament, upsetting Louisville in the second round of the 2011 tourney.

Tad Boyle


A former director of basketball operations at Tennessee under Jerry Green, the 51-year-old Boyle has won at least 21 games in each of his four seasons with the Buffaloes, reaching the NCAA tournament each of the last three seasons. And Colorado's basketball past is far less noteworthy than UT's.

Gregg Marshall

Wichita State

UT twice has turned its back on the 51-year-old Marshall, but the Vols appear to need him more than he needs them now. After guiding the Shockers to the 2013 Final Four and following that up with a 35-1 record this season, the loss being to eventual national runner-up Kentucky in the NCAA's third round, Marshall arguably now is the hottest name out there.

Tubby Smith

Texas Tech

At 62, he may be the oldest candidate UT athletic director Dave Hart will consider, but Smith also is the most respected and the most successful, having won a national championship and over 68 percent of his games while guiding four schools -- Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota -- to March Madness.

Mark Turgeon


The 49-year-old Turgeon knocked Bruce Pearl's first Tennessee team out of the NCAA tourney when he was the head coach at Wichita State. A marvelous X-and-O guy, Turgeon's recruiting with the Terrapins reportedly has been hampered by the school's association with apparel manufacturer Under Armour. UT's upcoming agreement with Nike would solve that issue.

Archie Miller


Easily the coaching flavor of the month after guiding the Flyers to an Elite Eight date with Florida, the 35-year-old Miller certainly could generate short-term enthusiasm in Big Orange Country. Drawbacks would be that he's been a head coach only for three years and this was his first NCAA berth, so there are justifiable questions about his ability to build a program.

The only ingredient missing from Cuonzo Martin's stunning move from Tennessee to California on Tuesday was a soundtrack. Something along the lines of Johnny Paycheck's classic, "Take This Job and Shove It!"

You think this was a step up the coaching ladder? Cal's gym holds fewer than 12,000. Thompson-Boling Arena it's not. And for all the talk of the Southeastern Conference getting no respect this year, the Golden Bears finished tied for third in the Pac-12 and went to the NIT. Sure, they own a NCAA title. But that was 1959.

This wasn't about upward mobility as much as Martin being fed up to his brooding eyeballs with the perceived lack of appreciation he was shown in Volsville almost from the moment he replaced the apparently irreplaceable Bruce Pearl.

So whether his flirtation with Marquette was legit immediately after the Volunteers' Sweet 16 loss to Michigan, it now seems fairly apparent that we should have paid much closer to attention the fact that his recent statement that UT was where he wanted to be was released on April Fool's Day.

In fact, this whole Cal thing was executed with such exquisite secrecy that it makes you hope Cuonzo stopped in Las Vegas on his way west to play a little poker. Talk about never showing your hand. Well played, indeed.

And judging from the whispers floating around Indianapolis before UT's narrow Sweet 16 loss to Michigan, well deserved, too.

It's fine for Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart to say he met with Martin as soon as the team returned from Indy to discuss a new contract. And that the $1.8 million a year he offered the coach would have placed him among the top 30 coaches in the country.

But that's like Kentucky or Vanderbilt finishing in the top 25 in football recruiting. You're still bringing up the rear in the SEC. If Tennessee is serious about consistently challenging Kentucky and Florida in basketball, it needs to pay its coach far closer to $3 million than $2 million. It needs to act like a school that, in Hart's words, "has one of the finest venues in the country to play basketball."

First, however, it needs to learn how to treat a coach it may one day rue having lost. And it starts with Hart and the rest of the UT brass. If Hart truly believes deep in his heart that he can find a better coach than Martin -- whom he didn't hire -- more power to him. He wouldn't be the first AD to want his personal picks in his key positions.

Though the jury is still out on football coach Butch Jones' ability to win at the SEC level, he seems to be a solid choice at this point. Maybe Hart will have similar luck at hoops.

But the behavior of much of the Big Orange Nation, as well as the administration, toward its basketball coach this past winter was embarrassing at the least and disturbing at worst.

Or as senior guard Jordan McRae said through social media on Tuesday: "You can't treat people any kind of way and expect good in return."

Nor was it only the 36,069 idiots who signed that online petition to "Bring Back Bruce [Pearl]." Where was the administration in all this? Why did no one other than Pearl's own son come forward to say that the former coach's return almost certainly wasn't going to happen? Is this such a spineless bunch they're fearful of the faceless Internet crowd?

And while it's magnanimous for Hart to now say of Martin's possible reasoning for leaving, "I don't think Cuonzo's decision was driven by dollars ... it was a tough year ... a tough year for Cuonzo and Roberta ... there were a lot of distractions; you know what they were, you reported on them ... pretty tough for those young men [on the team]," if the AD could see it, why did he not step forward to alter the dialogue?

Better yet, why wait until after the Sweet 16 to talk contract? Why not meet with Martin after the round-of-32 win over Mercer? Did Hart think the Vols would get mashed by Michigan enough to cut loose a third-year coach who'd never finished worse than fifth in the SEC?

Yet Martin was also a strange hire when former AD Mike Hamilton tabbed him to replace the disgraced Pearl, who was let go for not only breaking NCAA rules and lying about breaking them but also asking parents of recruits to lie for him.

Yes, Martin was an insanely good person and by all accounts a fine coach. But Hamilton also was asking the fan base to embrace a coach who had never been to the NCAA tourney when the guy he was replacing had gone there all six years on the job. It was a tough sell from the get-go, especially when Martin took three seasons to get the Vols into the Big Dance.

None of that matters much now, though. The Rocky Toppers now appear to be all but certain to hit rock bottom next season, what with McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton done with their eligibility, Jarnell Stokes off to chase NBA dreams and 7-foot-1 recruit Kingsley Okoroh taking less than 12 hours to switch his commitment from UT to Cal.

Given all that, it's time for Hart to raise the stakes to erase the mistakes. Time to throw $2.5 million or more at a proven winner such as Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, Texas Tech's Tubby Smith, Colorado's Tad Boyle (who once worked under Jerry Green at UT) or Mark Turgeon, the under-appreciated Maryland coach.

Or perhaps the AD should really roll the dice and opt for a young gun, someone along the lines of Minnesota's Richard Pitino, Southern Miss's Donnie Tyndall or Louisiana Tech's Michael White.

Regardless, Hart and the rest of the UT administration should never again treat a coach the way they allowed Martin to be treated. At least not if they expect anything good to come in return.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.