KNOXVILLE — It took less than 24 hours for the offseason to get interesting for Tennessee's basketball program.
According to a report Saturday afternoon by ESPN's Jeff Goodman, Volunteers coach Cuonzo Martin is one of Marquette's top targets, along with former Pittsburgh and UCLA coach Ben Howland.
The two are the "top-tier candidates" for the Golden Eagles, who are in the process of replacing Buzz Williams. After six seasons at Marquette, Williams took the Virginia Tech job last week. Marquette already unsuccessfully pursued Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart.
The ESPN report, citing sources, said Howland is "extremely interested" in the opening after sitting out this season following his firing by UCLA last year.
Martin did not immediately return a phone call made by the Times Free Press on Saturday evening.
His third season at Tennessee ended in the Sweet 16 on Friday night with a 73-71 loss to Michigan. After scuffling through SEC play, the Vols won five of six games entering Selection Sunday to earn one of the NCAA tournament's final at-large bids.
From there, Tennessee beat Iowa, Massachusetts and Mercer to reach the tournament's round of 16 for the seventh time in the program's history.
In his three seasons since replacing the popular Bruce Pearl -- who took Tennessee to the NCAA tournament in each of his six years and was hired at Auburn nearly two weeks ago -- Martin is 63-41 overall and 32-20 in the SEC, where his teams have finished second, fifth and fourth the past three years.
Martin's NCAA tournament run likely warrants an increase in salary and a contract extension, but it's unclear when he'll have his end-of-season meeting with athletic director Dave Hart. After two NIT appearances, Martin was given a $50,000 raise without an extension on his original five-year deal. His third-year salary of $1.35 million was 11th-highest in the SEC.
It's a possibility, too, that Martin may explore his options or even bolt after a tumultuous third season in which a growing vocal minority of the fan base clamored for his firing during the season in addition to an online petition to bring Pearl back to Tennessee.
If Martin does terminate his contract, however, what he or the program that hires him would owe Tennessee drops from $2.6 million to $1.3 million on Tuesday, per his contract, which also stipulates the separation payments be made in equal monthly installments over a 48-month period.
Williams took Marquette to the NCAA tournament in each of his first five seasons, including two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight in the past three tournaments, but the Golden Eagles finished sixth in the new-look Big East Conference and finished 17-15 this season.
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 ...