Mike Strange: Mike Anderson moved to SEC, then Cuonzo Martin followed

Mike Strange
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin calls a play during the first half against Arkansas at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin calls a play during the first half against Arkansas at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

The SEC's two new basketball coaches met on the sidelines Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena, their teams on even footing at tipoff.

Tennessee and Arkansas were both 5-5 in SEC play, but after 40 minutes a decisive verdict was rendered.

The newest new guy, Cuonzo Martin, got the best of his senior by four days, Mike Anderson, as the Vols trampled the Razorbacks 77-58.

Anderson and Martin came to the SEC last March from the state of Missouri. They weren't a package deal but their arrival might not be pure coincidence.

The game of musical coaching chairs is an annual event in March. Given the accompanying drama and speculation, it is the other version of March Madness.

Anderson started the music when he left a high-profile job at the University of Missouri to take another high-profile job, Arkansas.

Until near the end of the 2010-11 season Tennessee didn't expect to be a player. But when UT did a 180 and jettisoned popular coach Bruce Pearl to enhance its defense against NCAA penalties, a major, if damaged, vacancy was suddenly on the market.

And the series of events that led to Martin filling that vacancy could at least indirectly be traced to Anderson.

Arkansas targeted Anderson immediately after it dumped John Pelphrey on March 13. Anderson had spent 17 high-rolling years as an assistant with the Razorbacks under Nolan Richardson.

In 2002 he left for a head-coaching gig, at UAB, and in 2006 moved on to Missouri.

The Arkansas program declined into mediocrity, first under Stan Heath and then Pelphrey. The Razorbacks were willing to open the vault to get Anderson.

They got him on March 23, the day after UT fired Pearl.

Martin, coming off a conference championship at Missouri State, was an appealing up-and-comer for any major school seeking a new direction.

At least one newspaper, The Kansas City Star, quickly tagged him as the leading candidate for the Missouri opening. Martin even felt compelled to issue a statement saying he had no contact from Missouri.

Turns out the guy Mizzou really wanted was Matt Painter of Purdue, Martin's alma mater and former employer for eight years as an assistant coach.

Tennessee was interested in Martin. The interest grew after several candidates quietly declined to discuss the UT vacancy.

Martin was felt to be in play at some level for Missouri. But if Painter took that job, wouldn't an old Boilermaker hero be on Purdue's shortlist?

So Tennessee moved fast. On March 27, word went out that Martin was taking over in Knoxville.

The man who hired Martin, athletic director Mike Hamilton, acknowledged that UT didn't want to be left standing without a chair when the music stopped.

"You don't want to run the risk of finding the person, then him taking another job somewhere else because you didn't act swiftly enough,'' Hamilton said at the time.

"There were a couple of other jobs open. We knew he was possibly involved in at least two of those so we decided to move ahead.''

In the end, Painter stayed at Purdue. On April 4, Missouri finally settled on Frank Haith of Miami. The Mizzou faithful were not dazzled.

But as of tonight, I would say all three schools are happy with their new coaches.

Anderson's team fell to 0-9 on the road Wednesday night, buried under blistering first-half shooting by the Vols. But he is 17-0 in Bud Walton Arena and bringing the fans back with his up-tempo play. That's a start.

Haith, to everyone's surprise, has Missouri at 24-2 and ranked No. 3.

And after a hit-and-miss start, Martin has molded the Vols into a hard-nosed team in his image. They've won four in a row and six of their past eight.

Seemingly light years from December's struggles, Martin said he would take on anyone at the moment.

"I think so,'' he said. "I think we're a good team.''

It's been 11 months since the musical stopped and the chairs were filled. All's well that ends well.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Related Stories

Comments » 9

MothershipChip writes:

Great Game and a HUGE win for the big orange tonight!!!!

arkyvol writes:

"The interest grew after several candidates quietly declined to discuss the UT vacancy."

"The man who hired Martin, athletic director Mike Hamilton, acknowledged that UT didn't want to be left standing without a chair when the music stopped."

sound familiar? the desperation, the lack of a plan? for all u.t.'s tradition, facilities, fan support, and financial rewards, hammy couldn't get his calls returned. honestly, i don't think the man could sell beer on a troopship.

coach martin appears to be the real deal, but this story reminds me of the astronomical incompetence of the man who hired him.

Brewii writes:

Let’s see, Hamilton hired two b-ball coaches during his tenure. Coach Pearl turned out to be a slam dunk, and Coach Martin is beginning to show signs of being the same. Despite Hamilton's other perceived faults, he appears to have been very competent in the hiring of men's b-ball coaches.

writer#358485 writes:

He also is going to turn out to have done fine in football, as well, despite the constant grumbling about Dooley on this board. Dooley just had further to go after the Fulmer and Kiffin fiascos, which I do blame on Hamilton. But as the story said, all's well that ends well. I'm excite about the rest of the BB season and the football season ahead! Go Vols!

Central_IL_Vol writes:

I like what I am seeing from Coach Martin and the BB Vols. I think the BB Vols have a very bright future!

GO VOLS!

CoverOrange writes:

in response to arkyvol:

"The interest grew after several candidates quietly declined to discuss the UT vacancy."

"The man who hired Martin, athletic director Mike Hamilton, acknowledged that UT didn't want to be left standing without a chair when the music stopped."

sound familiar? the desperation, the lack of a plan? for all u.t.'s tradition, facilities, fan support, and financial rewards, hammy couldn't get his calls returned. honestly, i don't think the man could sell beer on a troopship.

coach martin appears to be the real deal, but this story reminds me of the astronomical incompetence of the man who hired him.

Hamilton had interest in proven coaches at major program schools. None had reason to leave their current situation given the unknown future at UT. His next choice was well regarded coaches at mid major schools who would see UT as a step up and a chance to prove themselves. I'd rather a coach that wanted in his heart to be here rather than a coach that had to be sold on it.

budd#207344 writes:

in response to arkyvol:

"The interest grew after several candidates quietly declined to discuss the UT vacancy."

"The man who hired Martin, athletic director Mike Hamilton, acknowledged that UT didn't want to be left standing without a chair when the music stopped."

sound familiar? the desperation, the lack of a plan? for all u.t.'s tradition, facilities, fan support, and financial rewards, hammy couldn't get his calls returned. honestly, i don't think the man could sell beer on a troopship.

coach martin appears to be the real deal, but this story reminds me of the astronomical incompetence of the man who hired him.

The incompetent ones would appear to be the coaches who turned it down. But we as Vol fans take that as a snub when in reality the coaches who turn down the job are just gutless. Martin has come to the #5 attendance in bb school and kept the fans coming. A great coaching job. And like Pearl, a guy who has confidence in his ability and recognizes a top job when it is offered to him. MH has made mistakes but not here.

Chris4Vols22 writes:

in response to arkyvol:

"The interest grew after several candidates quietly declined to discuss the UT vacancy."

"The man who hired Martin, athletic director Mike Hamilton, acknowledged that UT didn't want to be left standing without a chair when the music stopped."

sound familiar? the desperation, the lack of a plan? for all u.t.'s tradition, facilities, fan support, and financial rewards, hammy couldn't get his calls returned. honestly, i don't think the man could sell beer on a troopship.

coach martin appears to be the real deal, but this story reminds me of the astronomical incompetence of the man who hired him.

Dude, you just don't get it.

Tenn_Traveler writes:

Gotta be glad we got Cuonzo. Our team is really following his leadership. Great Job!!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features