Tennessee Vols looking for Cuonzo Martin's replacement

Tennessee Vols looking for Cuonzo Martin's replacement

April 17th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart answers questions about Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin leaving to be head coach at California during a news conference.

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart answers questions about...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - Dave Hart woke up Wednesday morning in a less than ideal situation having to replace a basketball coach heading into late April, but it's certainly not an intimidating scenario for Tennessee's athletic director.

For the man in his third year in charge of the Volunteers' athletic department, it's another opportunity to put his stamp on Tennessee by putting his pick in a key coaching position.

The first 24 hours after Cuonzo Martin abruptly left to take the California job brought little in the way of concrete developments in Tennessee's search, but with the season long over and no other major programs still with coaching vacancies, that figures to change soon.

"You look for the track record," Hart said at his news conference on Tuesday afternoon. "You look for somebody that can recruit. Our lifeblood is recruiting in all of our sports. When you go into a process like this, you want to be sure that the person you're hiring is an outstanding recruiter. You also want a person that brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

"Transitions aren't easy, regardless of the circumstances that may have brought you into a transition. They're difficult. You want somebody with knowledge of the game, and you want somebody that can attract a very high quality staff."

For Tennessee, the biggest question is how much the Vols are willing to pay for that desired candidate rather than if coaches would be interested in the position, particularly given the athletic department's well-documented financial situation.

Hart and Tennessee were willing to pay Martin in the range of $1.8 million, and the Vols likely would have to go above the $2 million threshold to attract more proven coaches.

"We will go into the search process with a very similar profile that we discussed when we were in the football process," Hart said. "Now again, we would seek as a priority someone with head coaching experience. That does not eliminate people. It just says that is our initial priority.

"We are looking for a track record, [but] you don't always end there. Perhaps at the end of the day we don't attract someone with a significant track record. Perhaps we attract a rising star. I don't know, all of that is hard to forecast, but the rising star is different in terms of the financial package than the person with an outstanding track record."

Wichita State's Gregg Marshall has been linked to Tennessee's past two basketball searches, and it would make sense for the Vols to kick the tires at least and see what interest the 51-year-old, whose salary is $1.75 million, would have after leading the Shockers to the Final Four last season and a 35-0 start this season before an NCAA tournament loss to finalist Kentucky.

Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart is a name linked to seemingly every opening, but he's turned down multiple jobs since taking the Rams to the 2011 Final Four.

Other potential candidates could include Dayton's Archie Miller, who just led the Flyers to the Elite Eight and agreed to a contract extension during the tournament run; Colorado's Tad Boyle, who is 92-49 with three NCAA tournament appearances in four seasons with the Buffaloes; and Chris Mack of Xavier, who was linked to the Vols' last opening.

Former UCLA and Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland could be a possibility even though he didn't coach last season.

If Tennessee wants to go the young, up-and-comer route, it could look at Minnesota's Richard Pitino, the 31-year-old son of Louisville and former Kentucky coach Rick; Louisiana Tech's Mike White, a former Ole Miss guard and assistant coach; or Donnie Tyndall of Southern Mississippi, who already has addressed his name being linked to the Vols' opening.

"I have said in other instances that I am very humbled and proud to be the head coach at Southern Miss," the former Morehead State and second-year Golden Eagles coach told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

"My working relationship with [athletic director] Bill McGillis, on a scale of 1-10, is a 10. When other situations arise and my name is mentioned, it is a compliment to our players, coaching staff, and the success we've had here at Southern Miss."

Unlike the search that landed Martin three years ago, there is no competition in the form of other openings at the major-conference level. The likes of Wake Forest (Tulsa's Danny Manning), Marquette (Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski) and Boston College (Ohio's Jim Christian) all have made their hires.

Hart believes the Tennessee job is "extremely attractive." In the 21,678-seat Thompson-Boling Arena, the Vols boast one of the country's largest venues. Pratt Pavilion is an impressive practice facility. Other coaches have shown what the program is capable of accomplishing.

And even though increasing fan unrest played a role Martin's decision to leave, Hart believes it's a non-issue moving forward.

"We have a phenomenal fan base," he said. "We have a very passionate fan base. Can passion be misdirected? Sure it can at times, but we're blessed with a passionate fan base.

"I don't have any concern about that being a problem."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.