Three years ago, Tennessee Volunteers fans chased Cuonzo Martin out of the Southeastern Conference despite a Sweet 16 appearance, mainly for not being his popular predecessor, Bruce Pearl.
Now he’s back in the SEC, and this time, acceptance from the fan base at his school shouldn’t be a problem.
Less than 24 hours after his California squad lost its NIT opener to Cal State-Bakersfield, Martin resigned as the Golden Bears’ coach and jumped ship to Missouri, bringing the native of East St. Louis, Ill., back to the Midwest and back to the state where he first launched his head coaching career with Missouri State in 2008.
ESPN reported that Cuonzo Martin‘s deal will be for seven years and is worth $21 million, almost triple the guaranteed salary of former Missouri coach Kim Anderson. Martin’s departure from California included a buyout of $1.1 million, which would likely be paid by his new school.
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said in a statement to ESPN that they are happy that Coach Cuonzo is coming home to the Midwest and cannot wait for him and his family to return to the State of Missouri, specifically Columbia. He continued to say their goal at the beginning was to find a new coach who has shown success, both on the court and off, and has the same values that will work with others at Mizzou to start a fire under the fan base and the program.
The easiest way for Cuonzo Martin to reignite interest in Missouri is to start winning, something he’s had no trouble doing in any of his three stops. Under Anderson, Missouri never topped 10 wins in a season, and empty seats were a common sight at the Tigers’ home games. Conversely, Martin has won at least 18 games in each of his past eight seasons with three different schools.
That was what led California to attempt to keep Martin in Berkeley, but with the lure of a school just two hours west of his hometown in play, the Golden Bears simply could not match Martin’s desire.
Cal athletic director Mike Williams said that Cuonzo Martin informed him this morning of his decision to resign and accept a new coaching position at another school. He said the program tried to keep him at Cal, but he said it was not about the school, or the players. He wanted to move closer to his family home.
Martin now gets the challenge of again attempting to win in the SEC after leaving Tennessee following a Sweet 16 appearance that had his players furious at the Volunteer fans for their treatment of Martin. After Missouri won just two SEC games in 2016-17, anything close to even a postseason bid would be considered a big step forward for a program that was once among college basketball’s elite but has steadily gone downhill since Norm Stewart retired in 1999.
With Cuonzo Martin now becoming the fifth man to lead Missouri after Stewart spent 31 years in Columbia, anything resembling consistent success would be a major thrill to the Tigers’ faithful.
Readers, is Martin the right man for this job? Where does California go from here? Will the Tigers begin to compete in the SEC in the near future? Sound off in the comments!
Commentary by Dan Angell
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