Bruce Pearl was always a beloved figure in Knoxville, and quite frankly, he still is. Pearl was so popular that Tennessee fans started a petition (which received over 36,000 signatures) before this year’s NCAA tournament to hire him back as head coach. This plan, of course, would have left Cuonzo Martin, the team’s third-year head coach, unemployed, but Volunteer fans couldn’t have cared less. Needless to say, this disrespect caught Martin’s attention.
So, now here we stand. Less than one month has passed since the Tennessee’s Sweet 16 run in the tournament, and Martin is no longer in Knoxville. He is headed for greener pastures in Berkley, taking over a California program that is returning solid talent and should be able to compete immediately. It is important to note for Vols fans that Pearl isn’t walking through that door. Instead, he will be bringing his energetic and passionate coaching style (and maybe a few more of his patented NCAA violations) to Auburn, in an attempt to rebuild that program.
It’s hard to blame Martin here. He inherited a talented team from Pearl for sure, but it was one in a state of disarray thanks to multiple violations from Pearl’s regime. But it’s not like Martin lacked success in Knoxville — he never finished lower than fifth in the SEC and was 63-41 in three seasons with the school. Many of Martin’s players supported their coach, using social media to vent their rage against the university and athletic director Dave Hart.
This situation is not unlike what Indiana has faced with its coaching situation. The Hoosiers have dealt with an impatient fanbase who are have turned up their noses at any coach not named Bob Knight. Now, with a disappointing season in the books, Indiana coach Tom Crean, who admirably steadied the ship through the program’s darkest days, has seen his seat grow warmer.
Fortunately for Crean, he has the support of his athletic director, which is something Martin never really had, especially during his final year with the Volunteers. In the end, Martin did what he had to do, and while Tennessee fans may be happy with his departure right now, they will find out in the long run that they will miss him more than they think.