Wiedmer: Martin deserves better treatment from UT

Wiedmer: Martin deserves better treatment from UT

March 30th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin directs his team during their NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal basketball tournament game against the Michigan Friday, March 28, 2014, in Indianapolis.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

INDIANAPOLIS - To be or not to be the University of Tennessee basketball coach. That is the question Cuonzo Martin must wrestle with this weekend.

To loosely borrow from the great basketball bard Willie Shake-n-bakespeare, is it nobler to silently suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, be they ridiculous referees, brainless boosters or pathetic petitioners?

Or is it better to take arms against a sea of Big Orange troubles, and by opposing end them?

Until four weeks ago, it seemed Martin might have no choice in these matters. It was much more about whether Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart wanted to keep Cuonzo as coach rather than whether Martin wished to remain.

And why wouldn't it have been that way? The Volunteers were 16-11 overall, 7-7 in the SEC, and so mediocre as to have no certainty of a measly National Invitation Tournament crumb for the third spring in a row to prop up the coach's third unsatisfying season in three years on the job.

The petition to "Bring Back Bruce" Pearl -- that lying, cheating coach who preceded Martin -- would soon reach 36,069 online signatures. There was not a peep of support from the zipped lips of Hart, who came aboard after Martin's hiring.

When the Vols lost in overtime at Texas A&M on Saturday, Feb. 22, you half-expected a moving van to appear at his doorstep by the crack of dawn the following Monday.

But then a remarkable thing occurred. The Vols started winning, gaining momentum and maturity with each successive victory. By the time they faced No. 1 Florida in the SEC tournament they had won five straight games by an average of more than 23 points. After an officials-aided loss to the Gators, they won three straight in the NCAA tournament before Friday night's officials-aided, 73-71 loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16.

Given such a titanic turnaround, if anyone on the planet would seem to warrant a contract raise and extension, it had to be Martin. And that easily could have come before Friday night, a giant gesture of support from the UT brass for a job well done.

Yet there hasn't been the slightest whisper from Hart's camp that such an extension is in the offing. Instead, loud rumors began circulating Saturday that Marquette has moved Martin at or near the top of its wish list to replace Buzz Williams, who recently took the Virginia Tech job.

Under normal circumstances, it's pretty easy to make an argument for Tennessee over Marquette, which finds itself in the water-downed Big East following the exits of Louisville, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Pitt, UConn and so forth.

Even with the NCAA tournament selection committee's unjust treatment of the Southeastern Conference in this year's tourney -- the SEC's three entrants (Florida, Kentucky and UT) are 10-1 in the event heading into today's Midwest final between UK and Michigan -- Martin can recruit to a stunning 20,000-seat arena and point to the league's new television network with ESPN, as well as a conference that's won six NCAA titles since 1994.

However, there's also something to be said for working for someone who appreciates your talents. Hart has had plenty of chances to show his support for Martin, especially after the Vols reached the Sweet 16 eight days ago. Yet nothing has been forthcoming publicly. Instead, one website devoted to the Vols has written of well-healed boosters denying Martin their private planes for recruiting purposes. Instead, the school allowed the Bring Back Bruce petition to grow without the first public statement that those fools were wasting their time.

Yes, Hart couldn't wait to be seen hugging his coach after last week's Round-of-32 victory over Mercer. But where was he this week? Why didn't he release a statement along the lines of, "We're so proud of the job Cuonzo's done with this team, and we're working on a contract that will keep him here for years to come"?

What seems more likely is that Hart secretly hopes Martin will jump to Marquette or elsewhere, and the sooner the better, since his buyout dips from $2.6 million to $1.3 million on Tuesday.

What it would take to keep Martin is likely in the $2-million-a-year range. But one wonders if even a raise of more than $600,000 a year can improve the apparently chilly relationship between the coach and his boss.

As Shake-n-bakespeare also wrote, "To grunt and sweat under a weary life ... And makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of?"

The time for Martin to grunt and sweat under a weary life of an unappreciative fan base and employer is over. He's earned his money. Time to get it or fly to others who'll pay it. Life's too short to endure the slings and arrows of folks who don't seem to strongly want you.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com