Everybody knows that the University of Illinois is actively pursuing Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart to fill their coaching vacancy; however, while Shaka’s interest level appears questionable, there appears to be several coaches around the country interested in the role. One of whom being University of Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin.
CSN Chicago’s Gail Fischer reports that several sources have informed her that Cuonzo Martin would be interested in filling the vacancy if contacted by Illinois. Martin just completed his first season at Tennessee with a second-round exit in the NIT, but he played at Purdue and is from East St. Louis, Illinois.
Furthermore, nearly every single member of Cuonzo Martin’s staff has ties to the state of Illinois and several of them also have substantial contacts in the all-important Chicago Public League, which serves as easily the most fertile recruiting ground in the Big Ten.
The Vols were famously scorned after just one season by current USC head football coach Lane Kiffin. If Martin were to leave, the backlash from the community in Knoxville would be severe. Of course, even if Martin were interested, the question would be whether or not the interest would be mutual from Illinois.
Another separate report from the Chicago Tribune says that Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton is also lobbying hard for the Illinois job. The Seminoles saw their tournament run come to an end last week against Cincinnati.
Hamilton has been at Florida State for the past 10 seasons where he has taken the Seminoles to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and 20-win seasons in six of the last seven years.
Illinois hasn’t publicly expressed interest in any candidates other than Smart, but Hamilton seems like a more likely fit for the Illini because of his proven track record in the ACC. On the other hand, Cuonzo Martin and his staff’s knowledge of the state also make them potentially viable candidates.
Needless to say, the fanbases of both Florida State and Tennessee will likely be watching Shaka Smart’s decision closely over the coming days and weeks.