In a surprising move, Cuonzo Martin has left Tennessee to become the next head basketball coach at Cal. His dash to the west coast comes after just three season with the Volunteers, in which he compiled an overall record of 63-41 and led them to the postseason every year, including the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee fans were reportedly at odds with Martin, leading to an estimated 40,000 of them signing a petition to have him removed and former head man Bruce Pearl rehired. It was even reported that some Tennessee boosters refused to allow him access to private planes for recruiting purposes. So bolting a respectable UT program for a much less renowned one in Cal was more about comfort than upward mobility.
Social media platform Twitter was alive with former players denouncing how their coach was treated by Tennessee brass. Senior F Jerrone Maymon tweeted, “Not even surprised…it was just a matter of time and senior G Jordan McRae said, “Can’t treat people any kind of way and expect good in return.”
Martin, 42, likely saw that time was right, as well. Four of five starters from a team that was a three-point shot from advancing to the Elite Eight after having to play their way into the NCAA tournament will not be returning next season. A fresh start, it seems, was the right call. Martin was 124-82 in six seasons as a head coach. Prior to taking the Tennessee job in 2011, he coached at Missouri State for three years from 2011-2014, taking them to the postseason twice—the CIT, which they won in the 2009-10 season and the NIT the following season.
“I am pleased to be here and honored to have the opportunity to lead the University of California’s men’s basketball team,” he said in a statement to the press. “The Conditions for success at Cal are right and I believe we can compete at the highest level and continue the success here at Berkley. Having the opportunity to coach at Cal is one that I am very excited about. This is an incredible academic and athletic institution and I am proud to now be a part of it as well as the PAC-12 Conference.”
Martin attended Lincoln High School in East St. Louis, Illinois, leading his team to three consecutive state championships. He owns the postseason scoring mark of 198 points and 11 rebounds in 12 games. From 1991-95, he played at Purdue University under head coach Gene Keady and alongside All-American Glenn Robinson. As a 6-6 guard/forward composite, Martin helped the Boilermakers win back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1994 and 95 and reach the NCAA’s Elite Eight in 1995. He was selected in the second round of the 1995 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, playing in just seven NBA games. He also played professionally with the CBA and overseas in Italy before retiring after the 1997 season. Martin would then finish his degree at Purdue before beginning his coaching career at Purdue under his former head coach Keady.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat