When Coach Cuonzo Martin left Tennessee for Haas Pavilion, Vols fans weren't exactly upset, despite Martin's relative success on the court. Did they know something about Martin's back-alley dealings with the Yakuza that we didn't? Or did they feel jilted because Martin took the last piece of cake eithout asking at some meet-and-greet event? CBS Sports took a look at this weird relationship and how Martin knew it was time to leave Tennessee.
[Y]ou probably don't realize that, in his three seasons at UT, Martin won more SEC games than anybody not named John Calipari or Billy Donovan, and that he was the only SEC coach besides Calipari and Donovan to make a Sweet 16. And you probably don't realize that Martin did all that despite UT's men's basketball budget dropping by roughly $1.6 million annually from Pearl's final year in Knoxville to Martin's final year in Knoxville.
In other words, by any reasonable measuring stick, Cuonzo Martin was doing fine.
So what was the problem?
Talk to enough people and the answers will vary. Some point to, despite the winning records in SEC play, two years of NITs followed by a slow start to Martin's third season. Others point to recruiting troubles. Others point to a stoic public demeanor. And lots and lots of people, quite frankly, think the color of his skin was an issue.
There's some truth to all of that, I think.
But Martin's problems in Tennessee were mostly two-fold:
- He was never going to be Bruce Pearl in UT fans' minds.
- Bruce Pearl was about to be back on the coaching market.
As we know, then-AD Sandy Barbour hired a search firm to find our new coach after Mike Montgomery's retirement.
[A vague call from the search firm] led to a trip to Cal's campus (that Martin said literally nobody knew he was taking), and though he was close with his players at UT and hated leaving them, he knew he had to (and knew they knew he had to), and the truth is that it only took a few minutes to accept Cal's offer once presented.
"My heart was in Knoxville because of the players, but I knew my days were numbered," Martin said. "So this worked itself out the right way, and there really are no hard feelings."
In addition to that story, I recommend you take a look at this story that deals with the tangled web that is Joe Igber, Russell White, Cal football's depressing decline, and EA Sports/NCAA lawsuit about paying players. It ties in how receiving payments could help with Cal's debt, White's and Igber's opinions on the matter, and how a student like Igber managed to juggle football superstardom with earning an engineering degree at UC Berkeley. Here's a hint: sleep only lasts for two hours.
It also sheds some light on Jeff Tedford's once-famed Academic Gameplan (which Igber doesn't endorse) and Tedford's disciplinarian attitude regarding practice and scholarships for on-field vs. classroom performance. It's a great read, but there was too much interesting material for me to even begin to summarize in the GN.
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