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The Five Stages of Cuonzo Grief

Is this a cliche article? Yes, yes it is.

NCAA Basketball: California at Washington State
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Huh, Cuonzo’s name is getting thrown around now that silly season has begun. I guess that’s not a huge shock, but his stock isn’t super high right now and he seems content at Cal. I’m not worried. Wait, Missouri is offering how much?! Twenty one million?! Psh, that can’t possibly be true. Man, I can’t believe the crap that gets reported these days.

He left one day after phoning it in against CSUB?! After losing seven of ten to finish the season? I’m not sure if I’m madder at Cuonzo or the athletic department for letting him get away so damned easily. Why do those morons writing for CGB like this guy so much again?

If we put together an offer quickly, I’m sure we can get Randy Bennett as head coach with Romar, The Sheriff, and Theo as assistants! They all understand what it means to win at Berkeley™! That’s a dream team that will leave Westwood and Tucson quaking in their boots!

What exactly is the goddamn point of this? There’s an 80% chance that the next guy we hire will suck, and on the off chance that we don’t screw this up he’s just going to leave at the first half-decent job opening that comes his way. Honestly, with our athletic department so dysfunctional, we may as well go the way of the Ivies. At least they don’t blow millions of dollars on their way to athletic irrelevance.

OK, so we’ve lost Cuonzo. True, he’s probably the best above-board recruiter in school history, and he built the best defense we’ve seen in at least 57 years. But neither was he perfect. There’s a chance that we don’t screw this up and end up no worse for wear. Randy Bennett has been producing teams that would compete just fine in the Pac-12 for years at St. Mary’s. We suddenly have a stable of potential alum coaches coming up through the ranks. This doesn’t have to end in disaster.

At least Tennessee fans won’t send barrages of weird tweets at us every time Cal loses an important game.

In which I fail to answer all of your burning questions about Cal’s latest vacancy

Should I be mad at anybody about how it went down?

I dunno. Some people are trying to claim in hindsight that Cal’s late slide was because Cuonzo wasn’t ‘focused.’ That’s an impossible thing to prove. All I know is that the players left it all on the court in Vegas an actually kept trying despite being down a gazillion points in the freakin’ NIT. Was Cuonzo talking to people about job offers before the season was over? Almost certainly. Does that make him any different from almost any person in any industry? Not particularly.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve held enough high-and-mighty grudges based on hearsay and innuendo. Unless and until we get specifics - dude’s gone, c’est la vie.

How screwed are we?

As I wrote two weeks ago, this is a particularly bad time to be looking for a new coach:

There will be at least five scholarships available, and maybe more like seven. Cuonzo Martin and his staff have a solid recruiting class lined up that will probably grow.

Having to find a new coach to come in and salvage that recruiting class could very well end up disastrously.

This doesn’t even consider the possibility of attrition off of the roster as is. There are scenarios wherein Cal loses both recruits AND players on the roster and ends up trotting out a collection of players that will finish towards the bottom of the standings no matter who the AD brings in to replace Cuonzo.

Of course, that’s just a worst case scenario. It’s just as possible that next season sees Charlie Moore and Jermarl Baker bombing 3s while Kam, King, and Marcus Lee block every shot within 6 feet of the bucket. It’s just that a coaching change means a wide degree of possibilities and a wide degree of uncertainty.

Have some guts and tell me who you think we should hire?

Hiring a coach is complicated, right? But to grossly oversimplify, there are two basic things we want to see out of Cal’s head coach:

  1. We want them to embody the attributes described so well by Solomon Hughes and Martin Smith.
  2. We want them to win games.

The challenge, of course, is that it’s nigh impossible for us fans to judge that first attribute from afar. We assume that former Bears like Theo Robertson and Dennis Gates would understand and embrace that ethos, but it’s very hard to say that any other candidate would or wouldn’t bring those skills to the table. This is an issue that we have no choice to but trust whomever is involved in the interviewing process to judge.

Which leaves us with wins.

Going only based on the names mentioned so far, and based solely on whether or not he’s likely to win games,* I don’t really see how you can argue against Randy Bennett. Over the last 10 years the Gaels have an average Kenpom ranking of 41 and he’s made 5 NCAA tournaments. Cal has averaged a Kenpom ranking of 53 with 5 NCAA tournaments. In other words, he’s produced better results at a WCC school located in a sleepy town of 17,000 than a mid-range Pac-12 school. He’s had good offenses and good defenses. He’s won with bona fide pros, and he’s won without NBA talent. It’s as complete a mid-major resume as you can ask for.

Pretty much everybody else mentioned is either unproven or a retread. I’m willing to go unproven if that particular unproven coach has some upside and the hiring committee has a strong reason to believe that they can be successful within the unique constraints at Cal - in other words, if they meet that first expectation listed above.

Is Bennett’s brush with the NCAA disqualifying? I dunno. Some of the violations sound pretty iffy, others sound like the type of ticky-tack minutia that the NCAA excels at. All of them are inspecific enough that there are plausible excuses and plausible nefariousness. Again, it would be up to the hiring committee to determine how much culpability Bennett should shoulder, and whether or not he’s a risk to Cal in the future.

Who knows? Maybe there’s another Cuonzo Martin succeeding at a school but looking to get out. The search committee would be in dereliction of duty if they didn’t call Chris Holtmann, Greg McDermott, Chris Mack, or Dan Hurley, amongst other successful head coaches who probably aren’t getting paid so much money that they wouldn’t at least take a phone call. Do I expect any of them to come, particularly considering Cal’s current fiscal atmosphere? No. But stranger things have happened.

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder.

*I use the pronoun ‘he’ even though we should probably just hire Tara Vanderveer so that we can win MBB games while crippling Stanford WBB at the same time.