Cuonzo Martin has taken a lot of criticism from Vol fans lately, due to his basketball team playing in the NIT for the second consecutive season.
Is the criticism justified?
Tennessee fans got used to winning under former head coach Bruce Pearl. During Pearl’s six seasons the Vols were 145-61. The Volunteers also made the NCAA tournament each of those six seasons, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2010.
Since the Pearl/Martin comparisons are inevitable, we might as well make some of them here.
In Bruce’s Pearl’s last season as head coach, the Volunteers compiled a 19-15 record, somehow they sneaked into the NCAA tournament as a 14-loss team, then proceeded to get blown out by Michigan 75-45.
In the very next season, Martin’s first with the Vols, Tennessee complied a record of, you guessed it, 19-15. Only this time Tennessee was relegated to NIT play.
This season the Volunteers are 20-12, a record that probably would’ve gotten a Bruce Pearl led team into the tournament, in fact it practically did in 2009. That season the Vols were 21-12 and made the tournament as a 9 seed.
Now I’m in no way suggesting that there is some sort of bias towards either Martin or Pearl, that isn’t the case.
The criteria is different then it was when Pearl was coaching Tennessee. Martin’s team this season most likely would’ve made the tournament three years ago, it should have made the tournament this year.
At some point there are things that are of the control of coaches.
To Judge Cuonzo Martin based solely on tournament appearances isn’t the greatest indicator of success. Yes, making the tournament is the goal, but it’s not the only barometer of which you judge a coach. In fact some coaches make the tournament and still get fired.
Case in point — Dino Gaudio
The current ESPN college basketball analyst was the coach at Wake Forest for three seasons after the unfortunate passing of the very successful former Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. Gaudio led the Demon Deacons to the tournament in two straight seasons. After the second tournament appearance he was fired. Wake Forest then hired a coach with a career losing record in Jeff Bzdelik (very Derek Dooley like we know). So far in Bzdelik’s three seasons as head coach at Wake Forest he has compiled a 33-59 record.
Gaudio’s record after three seasons — 61-31.
At this point Wake Forest fans would absolutely be enthralled to have Gaudio and his success back. The very same fans that wanted him gone.
Tennessee is in a similar situation that Wake Forest was in three seasons ago. Cuonzo Martin is following a very successful coach in Bruce Pearl, and he hasn’t attained the results fans became accustomed to under Pearl.
Exactly like Dino Gaudio.
Now the Volunteers have a choice to make, and Wake Forest has already laid out the road map for the Vols.
If Tennessee were to let Martin go — what then?
They could end up with a Jeff Bzdelik type coach, then everyone would be clamoring to bring Cuonzo Martin back to Knoxville.
Vol Fans should learn from the Demon Deacon’s mistakes. Staying the course with Martin is the right answer.
Being left out of the tournament when you’re a 20 win team isn’t an indictment on Martin as a coach, it’s an indictment on all that’s wrong with the NCAA. Everyone knows the Vols were a tournament team this year. It’s unfortunate that the decision of one committee to not include Tennessee in the NCAA tournament could alter one man’s career.
Stay the course Tennessee, Cuonzo Martin is a quality coach and Wake Forest found out the hard way, there aren’t too many of those floating around out there.