April 16th, 2014 10:40 AM║ Posted By: John Pennington ║ Permalink
║ Schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Tags: NCAA, Rocky Top, UT, Wade Houston
In Knoxville today, the private planes are being warmed up for yet another coaching search (assuming the boosters allow Tennessee’s AD to use them). Cuonzo Martin’s surprise decision to go to California with an aching in his heart creates the umpteenth coaching vacancy at UT in the past decade. Here’s the school’s scorecard in case you haven’t been able to keep track of all the major comings and goings in the Volunteers’ men’s athletic department:
* Basketball coach Buzz Peterson — fired March 2005
* Baseball coach Rod Delmonico — fired June 2007
* Football coach Phillip Fulmer — fired November 2008
* Football coach Lane Kiffin — left January 2010
* Basketball coach Bruce Pearl — fired over NCAA violations March 2011
* Baseball coach Todd Raleigh — fired May 2011
* Athletic Director Mike Hamilton — resigned June 2011
* Football coach Derek Dooley — fired November 2012
Now I don’t know about you, but that makes Tennessee’s athletic department look rather dysfunctional to most unaffiliated observers. For example, here’s some of the national reaction that average fans — and coaches — are seeing across the country today:
Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com: ”Can you imagine? You sign two five-star prospects in a span of three recruiting classes, win more games each year than the year before, mold a roster into a team that will soon make the Sweet 16, and, still, literally tens of thousands of your own fans have taken time out of their day to sign a petition requesting that you be replaced by the man you replaced three years earlier.”
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports: ”There is something in the water, or the soil — or, most likely, the people — at the University of Tennessee that has turned the athletic department into a transient, turmoil-ridden place. Basketball coach Cuonzo Martin’s departure Tuesday is just the latest huh? moment for a school that has been buffeted by them in recent years.”
Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com: ”In a lot of places (Martin’s results) would merit a raise, a contract extension and a heap of praise. At Tennessee, it got Martin a heap of nothing. Impatient fans and lukewarm administrators never really gave Martin a chance — Indiana fans, with a bit more basketball dog in the fight, gave Tom Cream a longer leash. And now the Vols got what they stopped wanting and exactly what they deserved.”
The first response to the national media from many Vol fans will be one big “who cares?” and a string of “yeah, buts.” But no school’s boosters and fans really want the sporting world to view their athletic department as some sort of sad joke. And unfortunately for the faithful on Rocky Top that is exactly how Tennessee is being viewed today.
Martin was never embraced in Knoxville for one reason — he wasn’t Pearl. As soon as the NCAA came down on Pearl he became to some UT fans their own “Lost Cause” hero, a combination of generals Albert Sydney Johnston and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. ”Why we’d have never succumbed to Yankee tyranny had our beloved leader in gray not been taken from us so grievously!”
Martin got better each year in three at Missouri State. He got better each year in three at Tennessee, too. He wound up three points shy of the Elite Eight last month. But he still wasn’t Pearl on or off the court. So the anti-Martin crowd simply changed their battle cry as the Vols advanced in the tournament — “Yes, but we underachieved in the regular season.” So when a team lives up to preseason expectations at tourney time the regular season becomes the problem? Kentucky fans are bonkers about hoops, but I don’t see anyone running John Calipari away for following the very same path Martin went down last season — disappointing regular season, expectations basically met in the postseason.
The greatest irony is that Martin was the only guy to do any real winning on Rocky Top in years. Pearl won an SEC basketball title in 2008. That is the only championship for Tennessee in a major men’s sport in 15 years. Vol baseball last took home the SEC trophy in 1995. Vol football hasn’t been crowned league champ since 1998.
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