published Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Cuonzo Martin leaves UT Vols for California

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Are you glad to see Cuonzo Martin leave UT?

THIRD-SEASON TIME LINE

A brief look back at Cuonzo Martin's third season as Tennessee's men's basketball coach.

Nov. 12: After two NIT appearances in Martin's first two seasons, the Vols lose 67-63 at Xavier to open the year.

Dec. 30: Early-season losses to Xavier, UTEP and North Carolina State seem even more odd after Tennessee blasts Virginia, the eventual ACC champ and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, by 35 points in Knoxville.

Jan. 11: Antwan Space hits a last-second 3-pointer to give Texas A&M a stunning 57-56 win in Knoxville.

Jan. 25: Tennessee is blasted 67-41 by Florida, the most lopsided loss of Martin's tenure.

Feb. 22: Space strikes again, hitting a last-second go-ahead 3 in overtime to give the Aggies a season sweep of the Vols.

March 8: Tennessee finishes the regular season with a fourth straight win by hammering Missouri 72-45.

March 16: For the first time under Martin, Tennessee reaches the NCAA tournament, as a late-season surge and strong RPI and strength of schedule numbers help the Vols land one of the final at-large berths into the 68-team field.

March 19: Tennessee rallies from a 12-point first-half deficit and beats Iowa in overtime in a "First Four" game in Dayton.

March 23: Two days after cruising past UMass, the Vols handle Mercer, the NCAA tournament's biggest Cinderella after upsetting Duke, to reach the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in eight seasons.

March 28: Three years and one day after Martin was hired to replace the popular Bruce Pearl, Tennessee's rally from a 15-point hole comes up short when Jarnell Stokes is whistled for a charge with the Vols down one and less than 10 seconds left in a 73-71 loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16.

April 1: After flirting with Marquette, Martin removes his name from consideration for the Golden Eagles' coaching vacancy and releases a statement in which he says Tennessee is "where I want to be."

Tuesday: Martin leaves Tennessee to take the job at California after going 63-41 in three seasons with the Vols.

KNOXVILLE — Two weeks ago, it all appeared to be done and dusted.

A little more than 12 hours after Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin removed his name from consideration for the vacancy at Marquette, he and athletic director Dave Hart released statements declaring Martin would remain with the Volunteers.

Yet there Hart was Tuesday afternoon, standing behind a podium inside the Ray Mears Room at Thompson-Boling Arena and talking about Tennessee's newest coaching search roughly three hours before Martin stood behind another podium nearly 2,500 miles away as he was introduced as the new coach at California.

It seemed highly unlikely two weeks ago.

"I think we both thought that at that time," Hart said at his news conference. "That is a fair question. Yes, today is also a surprising day for me. I did not think that we would be back into where we find ourselves today."

For Martin, that's a greener pasture with the Golden Bears, who had a vacancy when Mike Montgomery retired after leading Cal to four NCAA tournament appearances and the 2010 Pac-10 regular-season title in six seasons in Berkeley.

"I want to thank my Tennessee basketball family, first and foremost, for giving me an opportunity," Martin said at his introduction.

"I spent three years there, gave my life to the program, developed tremendous relationships from the administrative standpoint, the fans, obviously the players -- I love all of them, because that's what our program was about, sharing love and trust and building a community.

"I appreciate everything they gave me and the opportunity, and again, I don't take that for granted."

In three seasons with the Vols, Martin was 63-41 overall and 32-20 in the SEC with second-, fifth- and fourth-place finishes in the league. After falling short of the NCAA tournament during his first two seasons, Martin narrowly got the Vols into the 68-team field this season. From there, Tennessee beat Iowa, UMass and Mercer to reach the Sweet 16.

How the Vols got there probably played a role in his decision to leave Tennessee.

After a loss at Texas A&M on Feb. 22 left the Vols 16-11 and 7-7 in an average SEC, public grumbling among Tennessee's fan base increased and included calls for Martin's job and an online petition that gained more than 36,000 signatures to bring back former coach Bruce Pearl while the NCAA tournament was still within reach.

"There were a lot of distractions," Hart acknowledged. "You know what they were. You reported on them. Pretty tough for those young men, and I talked to them and they have unsolicited, as the end of the year was progressing, made comments about how tough that was. It was a tough situation."

Hart declined to say if those distractions led to Martin's departure.

"I have too much respect for Cuonzo to speak for Cuonzo, so I don't know," he said. "It wouldn't be appropriate for me to speculate on what is in his heart and what he is thinking. We hope he will continue to be very successful in his new opportunity."

The day after Tennessee's season ended in the Sweet 16 with a 73-71 loss to Michigan in Indianapolis, Hart and Martin met about his future with the Vols. The next day, he was meeting with Marquette about the Golden Eagles' opening. After meeting with Tennessee the following day, Martin withdrew from consideration at Marquette.

At that point, Martin, who earned $75,000 in bonuses for making the NCAA tournament and reaching the Sweet 16, was in line for a revised contract. Hart, who said he didn't know Martin was involved with Cal until Tuesday morning, said the offer included a raise of nearly $500,000 to $1.8 million a year with a two-year extension and a $1 million buyout.

Instead, Martin and Cal will owe Tennessee the $1.3 million buyout stipulated in his Tennessee contract.

"He knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that we wanted him to remain here," Hart said.

"In one man's opinion," he added, "I don't think Cuonzo's decision was driven by dollars or was driven necessarily by number of years. I don't know. It was a tough year. I don't want to speak for Cuonzo."

Martin is taking over a Cal program that won the 1959 NCAA tournament and lost in the title game in 1960 under Pete Newell but hasn't reached the Sweet 16 since 1997.

"One of the things that stood out about Cuonzo Martin," said Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour, "is his record, his record of success, his record of winning, his record of developing young men and the comments every step of the way about who he is as a man and who he is as a coach."

As he did with the football coaching search that ended in the hiring of Butch Jones, Hart will not use a search firm as he looks for Martin's replacement.

"There will be interest, and we will hire the very best person that we can," he said. "I don't think there will be issues in that regard. What we offered Cuonzo would have made him one of the 30 highest paid coaches in the country."

Hart did acknowledge, though, that Tennessee is "late" in the game, with the Final Four's coaches convention long gone and the late signing period starting today.

"I am looking for somebody who is a winner, somebody who has won where they have been," Hart said. "You just don't know until you conclude the process what you are going to be looking at in terms of your priorities and who rose up.

"You could be sitting in front of somebody that maybe is not the No. 1 target, but they come across as so impressive that you just know that this is the person. I think fit is important. I have always felt that in my entire career. I think fit is critically important, and we will look for someone who we deem to be a very good fit."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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