Just two weeks after turning down the Marquette job, the Tennessee athletics department announced Tuesday that third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin has left the Tennessee basketball team to take the same job at California-Berkley.
This comes after Martin’s most successful season not only with the Vols, but as a head coach in general as he led the team to his first Sweet 16, and the program’s first since the departure of Bruce Pearl.
Martin finished his time at Tennessee with a record of 63-41, 24-13 in his final season with the program.
After turning down the Marquette job two weeks ago to rework a new deal with the Vols, Martin tweeted out that there was no other place he’d rather be than Tennessee. This, ironically, occurred on April Fool’s Day.
This certainly isn’t the first time a Tennessee athletics program has been blindsided by a coach who unexpectedly bolted to a job in sunny California. Many Tennessee fans still haven’t forgiven Lane Kiffin for a similar move four years ago.
Athletic director Dave Hart said he and his team would hit the ground immediately in search of a replacement for Martin. He said that as they did in football, he does not plan to hire a search firm during the process.
Hart said he hopes to hire someone with prior head coaching experience, and a successful track record wherever they’ve been.
Like everyone else, Hart said himself he was surprised by the news of Martin leaving, and didn’t learn anything of it until Tuesday morning. Although it was a sudden decision, he said an emotional coach Martin told him this morning that he felt it was what was best for his family.
Martin’s final year wasn’t exactly the most ideal for any coach. Not because of all the things that happened on the court, but what happened off the court instead.
Towards the end of the regular season an online petition circulated around to over 30,000 people who signed said petition to have Martin removed as Tennessee’s basketball coach, and to bring back former coach Pearl. Unfortunately for Vol fans, only half of the petition’s request was successful as Martin has departed the program on his own terms, but they will still have to face Pearl head-to-head since he took the job at opposing SEC school, Auburn.
Hart said that Martin and the team went through a lot throughout this season, which most certainly had an influence on his decision to depart for another job. While most players would be upset at their coach unexpectedly leaving, Tennessee players have fully backed Martin’s decision and have been outspoken about the way he was treated this season, over social media.
Other than finding a replacement, the task at hand now is retaining the four current commitments the program has for next season. The Vols did receive a commit from a 7-foot-1 center from Great Britain two days ago, but upon learning of Martin’s departure he too has flipped from Tennessee to California.
With national signing day for college basketball fast approaching, it’s safe to say the athletic department has some quick work they’ll need to do.