By Ed Greif
The University of Tennessee's beleaguered head basketball coach, Cuonzo Martin is gone. Martin resigned Tuesday to become the head coach at the University of California, which won the 2010 PAC-10 championship under retiring coach Mike Montgomery.
Martin was on the hot seat early in the season, but coached his team into the NCAA tournament, losing in the Sweet 16 to Michigan.
Martin, who was offered a $500,000 raise and two-year contract extension at Tennesse, will apparently receive a five-year contract. Martin was 63-41 in three seasons on the Hill, including two NIT appearances and this year's NCAA appearance, and has an overall coaching mark of 124-82.
He withdrew his name from consideration to be the new coach at Marquette and then returned to Tennessee discuss his future with Tennessee.
The Vols graduate four seniors and are losing Janell Stokes to the NBA, which needs to work with the NCAA on the "one and done" issue. That's another story in itself.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart has his work cut out for him. He must find someone to rebuild a program, which has some talented young men returning next season; however, how many of those players will return? They could ask to be released from their scholarship and transfer somewhere, making the new coach's task even tougher.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press Tuesday, there were five members of the 2014 recruiting class — Larry Austin, 6'1"/160, point guard, from Springfield, Il; Phil Cofe, 6'8"/205, post/forward, Fayetteville, GA; Kingsley Okoroh, 7'1"/250, center, from Watford, England; C.J. Turman, 6'9"/235, post/forward, Madison, GA; and Jordan Cornish, 6'6"/215, guard, New Orleans, LA. Cofer and Turman signed in the fall.
Will the unsigned players de-committ and will the two who signed ask to be released from the scholarship? Okoroh announced he will follow Martin to California.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart has his work cut out to find someone to take the job and convince the recruits and returning players to remain with Tennessee.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel listed some potential candidates in Wednesday's edition — Tad Boyle (Colorado), Rick Byrd (Belmont), Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Chris Mack (Xavier), Archie Miller (Dayton), Tim Miles (Nebraska), Richard Pitino (Minnesota), Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth), Donnie Tyndall (Southern Mississippi), Ben Howland (formerly at UCLA) and Gregg Marshall (Wichita State).
The Chattanooga Times Free Press mentioned some other potential candidates — Tubby Smith (Texas Tech) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland).
These are high profile coaches who have taken their teams to the post-season over the years and are probably making more money that Martin made at Tennessee, who is going to have to open its wallet pay one of these gentlemen big bucks to coach the Vols.
I never saw this coming. After the Vols run into the NCAA, I figured he would have accepted the raise and contract extension, and stated on the Hill. Those 37,000 fans or so who signed the petition to bring back Pearl got what they deserved. Martin is gone to California, where the grass is apparently greener.
Now is the time for Hart to bring in a Pearl-type coach who can unify the disheartened and disenchanted basketball fans to put Tennessee back into the national championship picture. If something isn't done soon, the Vols are going to have a long season in 2014-15.
(Ed Greif is the Chronicle sports editor and his column appears regularly.)