- Tennessee introduces Cuonzo Martin as new head basketball coach
- Cuonzo Martin Q&A: Part One
- Cuonzo Martin Q&A: Part Two
- Jimmy Cheek and Mike Hamilton on the Cuonzo Martin hire
- AD Mike Hamilton on the end of Bruce Pearl's career at UT
- Roberta Martin on coming to Knoxville
- Knoxvillians respond to the hiring of Cuonzo Martin
“When you’re with him for a short period of time, you see a great balance of radiant determination and toughness, but at the same time an impressive display of humility and grace,’’ UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said, introducing Martin in the Ray Mears Room at Thompson-Boling Arena.
UT released a memorandum of understanding that shows the former Missouri State coach will make a guaranteed $1.3 million annually plus bonuses over the next five years. His base salary at Missouri State was $140,000, although the five-year contract extension he signed last June raised his total package to $300,000. And by accepting another job before April 1, Martin has to pay $250,000 to Missouri State.
Martin’s upbring was in East St. Louis, Ill., a city he said he’s proud of, but a city that ranks statistically as one of the most dangerous in America.
He played his college basketball at Purdue from 1991-95 under the legendary Gene Keady, one of the most demanding coaches at the collegiate level. Along the way, Martin has overcome bad knees and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
So as difficult of a task as it might be to replace the wildly popular but embattled Bruce Pearl — fired March 21 in the wake of the NCAA’s investigation into recruiting violations — Martin is ready to stand tall to the challenge.
“I embrace (Pearl’s) success, because it’s the program, and it helps you when you recruit after someone has success,’’ Martin said. “Somebody has to follow him. So for me, I didn’t think about it like that.’’
Missouri State athletic director Kyle Moats told the Springfield News-Leader on Sunday night that Martin was offered, and declined, a “substantial” increase in his compensation package, through privately raised funds, on March 7.
Pearl made $1.9 million in 2009-10, but UT terminated his contract in September after the embattled coach admitted he lied to NCAA investigators.
What Martin is thinking about is maintaining UT’s status as a Top 25 program and viable championship contender.
Martin led Missouri State to a 61-41 record over the past three years, including a 26-9 mark this season that included the school’s first regular-season championship in the Missouri Valley Conference. He was named conference coach of the year.
The SEC Eastern Division represents deeper waters, with Kentucky coach John Calipari leading the Wildcats to the Final Four, Billy Donovan leading the Gators’ renaissance and fellow-Purdue alum Kevin Stallings providing a consistent challenge at Vanderbilt.
Martin, the second black men’s basketball coach in UT history — Wade Houston was the first, 1989-94 — does not sound deterred.
“I think this is a Top 25 job,’’ Martin said, “but the goal is to be the last team standing and be a national champion, and I think we can do that with the right pieces.’’
Tennessee is scheduled to go before the NCAA Committee on Infractions on June 10-11 in Indianapolis, where it faces 10 alleged major violations, including an unethical conduct charge against Pearl for lying to NCAA investigators. The sanctions could be announced as early as mid-August.
Martin said he did his homework on the pending NCAA case and is neither distracted by it nor concerned with it.
“I wouldn’t say (there was) hesitancy, I would say more of asking questions,’’ Martin said when asked how UT’s pending case affected his rationale when considering the job offer. “After that, there wasn’t a lot of reservation at all.
“Mike assured me that everything will work out.”
Hamilton, along with senior associate athletic director Chris Fuller and associate athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois, was active in the coaching search.
Hamilton said the first interview with Martin took place Friday, but Fuller confirmed that “multiple” coaches were considered, as UT employed Parker Executive Search in Atlanta to assist in the process.
Fuller said reports of the Vols making an offer to Xavier coach Chris Mack were inaccurate.
“We asked the firm to check his interest, and he denied interest, and that was it,’’ Fuller said. “We never talked to him in any capacity.’’
Hamilton said no coaches with fewer than 20 wins were interviewed, and that the process was thorough.
“In this situation, Cuonzo was the first person we interviewed, and he just stuck with us the last three or four days and we kept coming back to him being the guy,’’ Hamilton said. “He absolutely hit a home run (Sunday) afternoon when we interviewed him. A winner is a winner is a winner, and Cuonzo is a winner.’’
Martin’s buyout is $2.6 million the first three years and $1.3 million in years four and five of the deal. If the Vols were to fire Martin, they would have to pay him 60 percent of the value of his salary for each remaining year on his contract.
The deal includes an agreement that Martin’s contract will be extended on a year-for-year basis based upon possible NCAA sanctions that could include recruiting restrictions, postseason bans or a reduction of one or more scholarships. So if the Vols were to have reduced scholarships for a year, Martin’s contract would be extended for a year, and so on.
UT’s schedule for next season is mostly complete and features a trip to the Maui Invitational in Hawaii with powerhouses like Duke and Kansas, and home games with Connecticut and a yet-to-be-announced Big East team in the Big East/SEC Challenge. The Vols are contracted to play road trips at Memphis, Oakland (Mich.) and the College of Charleston.
Hamilton said he told Martin on the front end he expects the schedule to remain among the best in the nation; this year it ranked No. 2.
“We’re going to be aggressively scheduling,’’ Hamilton said. “I think he understands that’s important.’’
Martin will head to the Final Four in Houston this weekend to complete his staff.
“I have guys in place, it’s just a matter of us honing in on some other guys,’’ Martin said. “We have some pieces in mind . . . ’’
Martin met with returning UT players at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, and again in his office on Monday. Freshman All-American Tobias Harris was the only player not present, as he returned home to New York for the weekend.
“We’re definitely sad about losing coach Pearl, but it’s a new face and a new opportunity,’’ junior Scotty Hopson said. “He’s definitely a straight-forward guy, a guy that’s going to keep it real.’’
A guy that’s not easily intimidated.
“The pressure?’’ Martin asked rhetorically, “I don’t consume myself with it, or get discouraged by it. I’m here to do a job.’’