Gone-Zo: Martin Leaves Tennessee for California

This afternoon, news broke that Tennessee’s head men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin would be leaving the program to accept the same position at the University of California. Martin had recently turned down a job offer from Marquette, and it appeared that he would remain at Tennessee. It was announced at that time that new contract negotiations were under way. Evidently, Cuonzo wasn’t suited by those negotiations. Or possibly, he wasn’t suited by the fan base. That remains up for speculation.

During today’s press conference, athletic director Dave Hart replied: “I have too much respect for Cuonzo to speak for Cuonzo,” when asked about why the coach may have left and if pressure from Vol Nation may have had something to do with it. Hart also stated: “It was a tough year for Cuonzo and Roberta (his wife). There were a lot of distractions.” Undoubtedly, those distractions include the 36,000+ fans who signed a petition urging his removal and the re-hiring of Bruce Pearl. Now, it appears that the worst-case-scenario is playing out. Pearl already took the job at Auburn and seemingly unhappy Cuonzo has left town as well. So, that poses the question: Who will be the next men’s basketball coach at Tennessee?

According to Hart, he and his staff will move as quickly as possible to find a new coach. Hart stated in today’s press conference: “We’ll go into the search process with a very similar approach as the football process.” He also not that he and his staff likely will not use a search firm, and Hart will reach out to candidates personally. Three names that immediately come to mind as replacements for Martin are: Gregg Marshall, Archie Miller, and Ben Howland.

Marshall will likely be one of the first targets for Hart and his staff. His success at Wichita State in recent years (174-71) has been unparalleled and he showed interest in the Tennessee job twice before. Maybe, the third time will be a charm.

Miller, the head coach at Dayton, is 62-38 and coming off a 26-11, Elite Eight season with the Flyers. He is the typical not-so-big name but can-for-sure-coach guy out there.

Ben Howland, former coach at UCLA, is a proven winner. He has taken three different schools to the NCAA tournament, and more impressively, reached three consecutive final fours with UCLA from 2006-2008.

All three of these names come up in just about any coaching search, and all three would fit marvelously at Tennessee. Then again, it must be noted that there’s still that guy down in Auburn who has a buyout of $5,000,000. Without question, many Vol fans will now turn their attention there, but it is highly unlikely that Pearl would leave Auburn with such short notice, having not even coached a game. Also, it is highly unlikely that Dave Hart and his staff will even pursue such a notion.

Regardless of which direction Tennessee goes, there are many viable options to be the next head coach. The biggest problem may be the timing of Martin’s departure, considering the initial signing date for recruits is well, tomorrow. However, Tennessee fans should have faith in Dave Hart. He hasn’t made a bad hire yet.