Cuonzo Martin has ‘determination and toughness'

Cuonzo Martin takes the stage during a news conference, Monday, March 28, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn., after being named the new men's head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee replacing Bruce Pearl. Martin was head coach at Missouri State and an assistant at Purdue and a former college basketball player.

Photo by Wade Payne, Associated Press

Cuonzo Martin takes the stage during a news conference, Monday, March 28, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn., after being named the new men's head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee replacing Bruce Pearl. Martin was head coach at Missouri State and an assistant at Purdue and a former college basketball player.

Jimmy Cheek and Mike Hamilton on the Cuonzo Martin hire

Cuonzo Martin is not easily intimidated, and as much as anything, that’s why the 39-year-old was introduced as Tennessee’s new men’s basketball coach at a Monday press conference.

“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.’’

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Comments » 18

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say ok ok lets not sound too goody goody. Witch Doctor say we still cheat you at the concession stands!
Bones never lie.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say ok ok lets not sound too goody goody. Witch Doctor say we still cheat you at the concession stands!
Bones never lie.

*they still cheat you....
BNL

movol77 writes:

I'm excited about this hire. Integral coaches produce legacy.

Flabbergasted writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

*they still cheat you....
BNL

Something is wrong with a person that responds to his/her own post.

VolFaninDC writes:

I just wish Ham & Co. had stressed goody goody and made it paramount with his first two hires.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to Flabbergasted:

Something is wrong with a person that responds to his/her own post.

Witch Doctor correcting self, in third person its a hit or miss kinda thing..lol
Bones never lie.

thevoice writes:

in response to movol77:

I'm excited about this hire. Integral coaches produce legacy.

I think in 2 years, folk will say we hit a home run with this gentleman. And "Cuonzo" has to be a top 5 basketball coach name.

hep writes:

in response to Flabbergasted:

Something is wrong with a person that responds to his/her own post.

Witch Doctor is the man!

thevoice writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor correcting self, in third person its a hit or miss kinda thing..lol
Bones never lie.

Witch Doctor know what "lol" means? A modern witch doctor. Funny.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to thevoice:

Witch Doctor know what "lol" means? A modern witch doctor. Funny.

Like Organizing Laotians?
(Lol. for real)
Bones never lie.

everydayisorange writes:

in response to Flabbergasted:

Something is wrong with a person that responds to his/her own post.

Obviously he was fixing a mistake that was just printed, to please the gramer police. Now he has to deal with you questioning his sanity! LOL! Some people would complain that their icecream was too cold! Get em WD!

VOLliven2it writes:

We as fans will get behind you and believe you can do the needed job Coach Martin. It took us a bit to get acquainted with who you are but now we are feeling better and will enjoy seeing your family and you in Orange!

VolunteerLifer writes:

“Mike assured me that everything will work out.”, Martin said in explaining why the ncaa hammer over our heads did not deter him from taking the job.

Allowing Hamilton to assure you is your first mistake, Coach. Just ask Pearl. Just ask the players.

movol77 writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

“Mike assured me that everything will work out.”, Martin said in explaining why the ncaa hammer over our heads did not deter him from taking the job.

Allowing Hamilton to assure you is your first mistake, Coach. Just ask Pearl. Just ask the players.

"ask Pearl"? Ha, now there's a sound voice to expect the truth from.

SandySpringsVol writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

“Mike assured me that everything will work out.”, Martin said in explaining why the ncaa hammer over our heads did not deter him from taking the job.

Allowing Hamilton to assure you is your first mistake, Coach. Just ask Pearl. Just ask the players.

Hamilton to Pearl (September 2010): "We stand behind you, but no more violations or you're gone."

Pearl to Hamilton (later in September 2010): "Geuss what? More violations! But it was an accident, so it really doesn't count."

Pearl to Hamilton (March 2011): "More violations, but hey, no big deal."

Hamilton to Pearl (later in March 2011): "What part about no more violations do you not understand? You're outta here."

It seems that Hamilton kept his promise after Pearl failed to keep his.

miketn6 writes:

I like Coach Martin so far. Now, we'll see if he can recruit and coach!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

BicardiRum? I'd be a hypocrite to say I'd never drank the rum but using it as a handle just doesn't tell me you're a fan of basketball!
Of course some of your comments make sense...I think the readers know which ones. Things need change everywhere. There is no political solution however. Change happens when a heart (mind) changes. Who knows if Pearl's heart changed somehow in this past bball year!? Who knows where Hammy's heart is? I don't. Govolsxtra is a site for opinions they are certainly expressed here. But remember that they're just opinons and many are not based on known facts. While I can agree with many of the opinions I don't often state how a person's heart is from my opinion. None of us know that Hammy intended harm with his ill-timed comments.
I seriously doubt it. The fact we all know is that Hamilton as well as Cheek said they intended to support Pearl. Maybe they intended to. I don't think they meant it as an approval of his mistakes. imo But I'd like to believe they really intended to give him a chance to continue here.
Regardless They've been hounded by their decisions and know somewhat of what Pearl was going through.
My hope is that future coaches and players won't have to endure the same endless media that we've put on previous staff.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

*they still cheat you....
BNL

We can't hire these coaches w/o those concessions I suppose.

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