Cuonzo Martin coached a Tennessee program for three years as it dug itself out of NCAA sanctions. He did so with dignity and he did so successfully, with a 62-43 record. Still, Martin faced a petition signed by students and Volunteer supporters demanding his dismissal.
In response, all Martin did was lead his team to a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament and leave them high and dry, bolting to coach the University of California.
Martin is too classy to say it, but surely the petition signed by more than 36,000 “fans” weighed in on his decision. Since he would not say it, one of his players did on Twitter.
Guard Jordan McRae wrote: “Can’t treat people any kind of way and expect good in return.”
For his part, Martin said the petition “just woke up a hungry bear,” and prompted the team go on a strong tournament run. But on April Fool’s Day, Martin said Tennessee was where he wanted to be and pulled out of consideration for the Marquette job.
But Cal called and Martin visited and he knew Tennessee was not where he wanted to be any longer, leaving Vols administration stunned and seeking its third coach in four years.
“It’s a beautiful place. I got off the plane and I just said, ‘Ahhh,’ ” Martin said during his introductory news conference in Berkeley. “I think it has a chance to be special here. I think that’s the most intriguing thing to me. It’s a place I could spend the rest of my life.”
When he dumped Tennessee, so did Kingsley Okoroh, a 7-foot-1 center originally from England, who played this season for Westwind Preparatory Academy in Phoenix. He announced on Twitter that he has switched his verbal commitment from Tennessee to California. Okoroh had verbally committed to Tennessee on Monday.
Tennessee offered Martin a two-year extension worth $1.8 million in each of the next four years. Martin’s buyout option from Tennessee dropped from $2.6 million to $1.3 million on April 1. His deal with California is for five years and the salary has not yet been released.