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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do… Maybe… Cuonzo Martin Leaves Tennessee

By Alex Norman

The marriages that stay together for the good of the children are rarely actually good for the children.   The husband and wife end up blaming the kids for their unhappiness and the children don’t grow up in a stable environment.

The marriage of Cuonzo Martin and Tennessee was not a good one.  His departure was inevitable… even if the circumstances caught just about everyone off-guard.

A rather cryptic email was sent to the media just after 1pm on Tuesday, April 15th stating the following: University of Tennessee vice chancellor and director of athletics Dave Hart will hold a media availability related to the men’s basketball program at 2:30 p.m. ET today in the Ray Mears Room at Thompson-Boling Arena.

At first it was thought that details of Martin’s new contract were going to be announced.  He had reportedly interviewed with Marquette, but on April 1st Martin said this in a statement release by the University of Tennessee’s Sports Information Department: “Tennessee is where I want to be. That has never changed… I appreciate the unrivaled passion of this fanbase and feel the responsibility to make those fans proud. I also appreciate the commitment that the university and athletic department leadership have shown to this staff. I am excited about the future and remain honored to be the head basketball coach at Tennessee. Go Vols!”

A few minutes after the email went out, twitter was abuzz with reports that Martin was leaving Tennessee to become the new men’s basketball coach at the University of California-Berkeley.

“I did not know Cuonzo was involved in the California job until this morning,” said Hart at his press conference. “We did have a conversation, he was very emotional, bottom line is he said in his heart he believed that that was best for he and his family.”

Hart said that Martin was offered a $500,000 raise and a two year contract extension, which would have put him at $1.8 million per season.  That would put him in the top half of SEC coaches, but still below the level many believe Martin deserves.

“In one man’s opinion, I don’t think Cuonzo’s decision was driven by dollars or was driven by necessarily number of years. I don’t know. It was a tough year,” Hart said.

Martin, like many coaches, wants to operate his program in a bubble.  He didn’t want any outside distractions or responsibilities other than getting his players to perform at a high level on the court and in the classroom.

But at a place like Tennessee, that isn’t good enough.  Ask Jerry Green. Ask Buzz Peterson.  Ask Lane Kiffin. Ask Derek Dooley.  None of those guys had much of a desire to rally fan support by speaking to the local civic club or ask students to show up and make their arena/stadium a true home court/field advantage.

Bruce Pearl got it… as does Butch Jones.  When you are head coach of a revenue sport at Tennessee, you are paid a lot of money to do more than just run practice or call plays during a game.

At Berkeley, Martin won’t have nearly the pressure to win or to connect with the community as he did in here in Knoxville.   There will be no petition signed by 36,000 folks asking Mike Montgomery to return as coach at Cal if Martin struggles.

At his introductory press conference, Martin addressed the “Bring Back Bruce” petition.  “One of things when you’re a coach, you can’t be consumed with things outside your periphery and for me, I thought it was a great teaching point for our guys, because we always talked about having character and going through adversity and dealing with situations… I think what happened, was that young men became men in the process, because as a coach, you continue to lead through adversity and for me at the end, it didn’t bother me and that it was a great teaching point for our players.”

Martin went 63-41 in three seasons at Tennessee, including one NCAA tournament appearance, which ended with a questionable charge call that might have put the Vols in the Elite Eight.  Those are results that most Division I programs would trade for in a heartbeat.

But Martin didn’t want to be here… and Tennessee didn’t exactly shut down McGhee-Tyson to keep him here.

It was only a matter of time before this separation happened.

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