As former Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin packs his bags and family and heads to sunny California to become the new head coach of the Golden Bears, I have decided to write my last column in his defense. On several occasions I have defended him as the Vols' head coach and I've supported him a full 100%. Now that he is gone, I can turn my attentions elsewhere. Not that he ever really needed my support, but he certainly doesn't need it now.
There must be a lot of joy in the Martin family today. They can now head to a place that actually wants him as a head coach. When he came to Tennessee three years ago, he wasn't the choice of the fans and if truth be known wasn't the first choice of the school administration either. He was replacing the mega popular Bruce Pearl who quite frankly left the program in a huge mess with NCAA sanctions looming. The cupboard was essentially bare of talent, though players like Jordan McCrae and Josh Richardson blossomed under Martin's direction. The Vols made the post-season all three seasons, ending the Cuonzo Martin era with a run to the "Sweet 16". The biggest problem for Cuonzo Martin was.....he wasn't Bruce Pearl.
On the day he announced he was leaving for the California job, people continued to criticize him. "He just couldn't make a good impression in his media opportunities....he was just too bland." "He needs to show more emotion," another person said. I wonder if either of those guys signed one of the two petitions that came around in the last six weeks. The first one carrying 36,000 signatures calling for Cuonzo's head and the re-hiring of Bruce Pearl as head coach. The second one was an apology to Cuonzo for the first petition. Seriously?????
By the time the second petition rolled out, the damage was done. The U.T. administration didn't help things when they offered Cuonzo a meager $50,000 raise. That bumped him up to $1.35 million a year, which placed him 12th out of the 14 SEC head coaches; not the kind of heartwarming offer one would expect from a coach that just took his team to the "Sweet 16." His teams never finished worse than fifth in the SEC, and his overall worksheet in three years was 68-41. It was obviously enough to impress California, but not enough to allow him to embrace the Vols' fickle fans.
Now, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart must hire the school's third head basketball coach in the last five seasons. (Football still has the record though, with four head coaches in six years.)
Elsewhere in the media, writers and sportscasters alike are having a field day with the Tennessee fan base and the administration. One reporter on espn.com called them a "joke" and went on to say, "They are getting what they deserve." As a long-time supporter of Tennessee athletics, some of that stuff is extremely hard to read, though I can't really disagree.
I have defended Cuonzo Martin and I defended Coach Phillip Fulmer when the athletic director at the time, Mike Hamilton made the move that a good portion of the fan base wanted; a move that seemingly started this downward spiral. I used those very words at the time....."They're getting what they deserve."
This is a new day, a new age in college athletics. If you don't win and win big immediately, you fall victim to what former Vols' Coach Johnny Majors called, "The legion of the miserable." They've always been out there, but their numbers are bigger and with the internet and more and more sports talk shows out there, they're more vocal. They see what other schools have and they feel they should have as good or better. Bruce Pearl who is now the head coach at Auburn was a hard act to follow for Cuonzo Martin. Now that Martin is out of the picture, it should become a bit easier for the new guy.
I hope that Dave Hart hires the right guy for Tennessee basketball. Though the hiring of Butch Jones as the Vols' head football coach seems to look better and better, the jury is still out. Everyone hopes to get a big name coach, such as VCU's Shaka Smart or Wichita State's Greg Marshall. Unless the U.T. administration ponies up a lot more money, those guys won't even sniff at the job.
Maybe Hart should contact Jon Gruden; maybe that would appease the fan base.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org