The Vols were without a head basketball coach for less than a week - Tennessee officially announced tonight that it has hired Cuonzo Martin from Missouri State to replace Bruce Pearl.
Cuonzo (pronounced CON-zoe) was at Missouri State for three years, guiding the Bears from an 11-20 season in his first year to a 24-12 (8-10 Missouri Valley) record in his second season, winning the College Insider Tournament. This year Missouri State went 15-3 in The Valley, 26-9 overall (including a four point loss to the Vols). A loss to Indiana State in the MVC Tournament cost them a trip to the dance, and they lost to Miami in the second round of the NIT.
Martin is 39 years old and a cancer survivor, and served as an assistant coach at Purdue for seven years before taking the head job at Missouri State. He served under Gene Keady (who he also played for at Purdue), whose coaching tree includes Steve Lavin, Matt Painter, Bruce Weber, and our friend Kevin Stallings.
With Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart in the Final Four, many UT fans will wonder why this move was made so soon and lament the program's inability to lure one of those two, or another higher-profile coach. But given the circumstances in Knoxville with the NCAA investigation, it's also very possible that Martin is as good as we could do right now - and it's equally possible that Martin can win here. Keeping the current roster together will be his most important task - getting Chris Jones and Kevin Ware to stay firm, and perhaps even convincing Scotty Hopson and/or Tobias Harris to stay in school an additional year. The Vols did consult Ernie Grunfeld and Allan Houston on this hire, according to reports on The Sports Animal earlier today.
Here's an excellent story out of St. Louis on Martin from February of this year. Included in the story are good quotes from Gene Keady:
"I don't like to put labels on any of my players," said Keady, now assisting at St. John's. "But in 50 years of coaching, he's the best leader I ever had. We'd make adjustments at halftime, and he'd go out and do them. He'd have everybody on the floor straightened out."
"I knew he would be a good coach," Keady said. "With all that he's been through, it's finally paying off for him. I'm really proud of him."
Tennessee - which did not hold a press conference to announce Bruce Pearl's termination - will hold a press conference at 2:30 PM EDT on Monday to formally announce the hiring.
You can win here. We hope Cuonzo Martin is the next step in the journey.
Welcome to the family, Coach!