Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cuonzo Martin Slithers His Way Out Of Knoxville

Well kiss my ass and bake me a bundt cake. The absolute circus surrounding the University of Tennessee athletics continues after Cuonzo Martin bolted for the unimpressive Cal job this afternoon. Now, Vols fans seem pretty divided on the issue. Some fans give him credit for leaving because he wasn't appreciated. Others, like myself, are alright with the fact that he left, but not alright with the way he did it.

Let's start with that petition that everybody likes to talk about. 38,000 UT fans signed a petition to bring back Bruce Pearl a few months ago prior to the basketball team hitting their stride. Hindsight is 20/20 so it's easy to look back and say Vols fans did Cuonzo wrong. But the fact is the team had underachieved not only this year, but the year before this, and the year before that. This year they often seemed lethargic and the prospect of making the Tourney was not high. The key players on the team were largely not even recruited by Cuonzo. McRae, Maymon and more than 50% of Jarnell Stokes were recruited by Bruce Pearl. As fans, you have an absolute right to pressure your teams performance in any way you see fit. Without fans, these games don't exist. Passionate fan-bases generally lead to
successful teams so if your underperforming then you deserve to feel the heat. Deal with it. Don't put this on the UT fans for wanting to see their team win. Bruce Pearl won, and that is why he was coveted.

But that is not why I'm pissed off about how this played out. Just like fans have a right to be mad, so do coaches. Less than a month ago, Cuonzo let himself feel heard by flirting with the Marquette job. Might have wanted the job, might have wanted a raise, who knows? Regardless of his intention, the fact is he did not take the job and Wojo gets hired. Which brings us to exactly two weeks ago where Cuonzo says in a statement,

"Tennessee is where I want to be. That has never changed."

Boom, that should be the end of it. In an era of college sports, where athletes are unionizing and clamoring for change to show them more respect, you really think it is a good look to bolt on your word TWO WEEKS after making a definitive statement!? If that's not what you felt, then just keep your mouth shut. You were still under contract. I get coaches need to "play the game" with the media, but don't play it with a greased hand.

But it was more than just that absolute lie of a statement.

It is the fact that he was offered a raise and extension after the Sweet 16 run, meaning the Marquette affair worked. The raise would have put him among the top 30 of the highest paid coaches in college basketball, which is right where UT basketball was ranked at the end of the season.

It is the fact that the teams best player, Jarnell Stokes, declared for the draft just a few days before Cuonzo leaves. I'm not saying Cuonzo pushed Stokes to declare, but the timing lends itself to questions. Coaches want what is best for their players, but they have a duty to their job as head basketball coach first.

It is the fact that YESTERDAY Cuonzo had a 7 foot 1 player commit to Tennessee, only to see that kid follow Cuonzo to Berkley the next day. Why even have this guy commit to UT in the first place? If you are going to Cal, then go to Cal then sign the kid. No reason to have fans get excited about a potential Stokes replacement, then flip the bird at us on the way out.

Finally, it is the fact that Cuonzo leaves the DAY before National Signing Day. Mike Montgomery retired from Cal the day Cuonzo made his touching statement. If Cal was a reasonable landing spot for him, then give the team a little more than one days notice to scramble and pick up the pile of crap you left behind.  Interviews with coaches like Chris Mack of Xavier don't last 14 days.

Overall, for a guy who loves dropping the "loyalty" and "family" buzzword, it is pretty damn hypocritical to slither out of Knoxville in this manner. I've always thought he seemed like a good guy from what I've seen in interviews and his players like him too. But at the end of the day, that doesn't mean I have to like him as a basketball coach. And after today's events, I do not. Enjoy your time in the nation's capital for petitions. I wish you no luck.

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