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ESPN’s Katz Has Praise For UT’s Martin

When Andy Katz tosses praise toward the SEC is usually flows in the direction of Lexington, Kentucky and John Calipari (and why not, all he does is win and sign the top class in the nation annually).  But in recent weeks he’s shown a little love to two ex-Purdue assistants… Rick Ray of Mississippi State and, today, Cuonzo Martin of Tennessee.

Katz had this to say just one day after the Vols and Martin landed a commitment from a five-star West Tennessee prospect whom Duke and Kentucky were also chasing:

 

“Cuonzo Martin is doing a tremendous job of increasing the talent and perception of Tennessee basketball.  Martin secured another commitment Monday for 2013 in landing 6-5 shooting guard Robert Hubbs.  The Vols will be just fine going forward in the SEC under Martin.”

 

After inheriting a messy situation from Bruce Pearl and the NCAA, Martin got off to a wretched start last season before his squad finally bought into his defense-first system.  When they did, he led Tennessee to a surprising #2 seed in the SEC Tournament in New Orleans before losing in the NIT.

In addition to securing a commitment from Hubbs in Monday’s daylight hours, Martin also got a commitment from the son of 13-year NBA vet Antonio Davis last night. 

He might not have Pearl’s style, flash and flair — and it seems some Vol fans miss that — but Martin seems to be doing everything else right.  Including “increasing the talent and perception” of the Vol hoops program.

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Big Ten’s Delany Wants The Power To Fire Coaches. What?

Stealing the SEC’s thunder today, a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education states that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany  is apparently angling for the power to fire coaches.  Yep, the employees of member institutions could be nixed by the commish himself if a proposal the league “is mulling” comes to fruition.

The idea is for Delany to have the power “to penalize individual members of an institution, should their actions significantly harm the league’s reputation.”

Penalize?  Fine.  Fire?  That’s nuts.  Even in light of Joe Paterno’s situation at Penn State.

Mike Slive suspended Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl for eight games in 2011 after he was caught lying to the NCAA.  Most outside the Volunteer State saw that move for what it was — an attempt by Slive to help fend off further NCAA sanctions for an SEC program/coach.  But to think that Slive could have fired Pearl or any other SEC coach?  That’s madness.

Leave it to Delany to “mull” such a move.  And remember, this is the same man who helped convince the NCAA to keep five Ohio State players eligible for their Sugar Bowl date despite the fact that their guilt was already known.

So maybe there needs to be a commish above the commish who can fire the commish when his actions “significantly harm the league’s reputation.”

Whoda thunk it?  The wildest story of the day didn’t come from SEC Media Days.

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A Pair Of SEC Coaches (Grant, Martin) On Illinois Fallback List?

A pair of SEC basketball coaches are being mentioned as potential fallback candidates at Illinois should the school fail to land VCU’s Shaka Smart.  Smart is reportedly mulling over a $2.5 million per year offer from the Illini.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Alabama’s Anthony Grant — Smart’s old boss at VCU — would be a candidate for the gig should Smart decide to remain in Richmond.  But Grant’s initial Memorandum of Understanding would require him to pay Alabama “the amount of the current annual base salary, multiplied by the number of years (or pro rata thereof) remaining on the contract.”  Grant’s contract was extended by two years through 2018 last September and his salary is $1.8 million, though that’s not the base.  Still, Grant (or Illinois in this case) would have to pay Alabama close to $2 million should the coach leave.

Washington’s Lorenzo Romar is also a candidate “according to a source” for The Tribune.  And the report also claims that Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton “is lobbying hard for the job.”

If you’re paying attention you’ll notice that Illinois is “targeting African-American coaches” according to the newspaper.  The likely reason for this: Illinois’ two best recruiting hot beds are Chicago and East St. Louis, Illinois.  Recruiting the inner-city is a goal.

Which brings us to another current SEC coach who just happens to hail from East St. Louis — Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin.  According to CSNChicago — the Comcast sports network for the area — “sources close to both Illinois and Martin found out that Martin would be VERY interested in coaching at Illinois.  Interested enough to pull a Lane Kiffin and leave Tennessee high and dry.”

WATE-TV in Knoxville reported last night that a University of Tennessee spokesman said Martin had no interest in the Illinois job.  It’s one thing for a coach to lie and say he’s not interested before hitting the road.  It’s more unusual for a coach to enlist his school to put out a lie, only to surprise them with a move.  Also, Martin’s Memorandum of Understanding would require him (or Illinois in this case) to pay Tennessee $2.6 million should the coach leave during his first three years in Knoxville.  Call it the “Lane Kiffin Protection” clause.

But let’s take a deeper look at Martin’s situation even though we think it’s doubtful he (or Grant, for that matter) would leave for Illinois at this point.

The CSNChicago report by Gail Fischer states that “my source believes if Martin were coaching the Illini, he would put former Illini star Deon Thomas on his staff.”

Here’s where it all gets odd.

Thomas is now the head coach at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois.  In the early ’90s, he became the University of Illinois’ all-time leading scorer.  Before signing with Illinois, he was a top recruit out of Chicago.

As a recruit, a little known assistant at Iowa named Bruce Pearl was trying to outduel Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins for his signature.  Pearl recorded a phone conversation with Thomas — without the player’s knowledge — in which Thomas stated he’d been offered a car and cash by Collins and the Illini.

Pearl turned the tape over to the NCAA.  The NCAA investigated and Thomas denied that he’d received such an offer.  Iowa head coach Tom Davis distanced himself from Pearl’s action and the assistant was effectively blackballed for going to such lengths to bring down Illinois and for jeopardizing the eligibility of Thomas.  He spent several years at the D-II level before finally moving up to Wisconsin-Milwaukee and then on to Tennessee. 

At Tennessee, he was brought down by secondary violations — and more importantly — a cover-up during the NCAA’s investigation of those missteps.  He was replaced by… yep, Martin.

As for Illinois — which hired a law firm that included future SEC commissioner Mike Slive to represent it versus the NCAA — the Illini did get probation, just not for the stuff on Pearl’s tapes.  But by starting the ball rolling, Pearl did hurt the Illinois program and — as Collins tells it — helped ruin his promising career.  (Ironically enough, Pearl was the victim of a stoolie, too, as Ohio State and Thad Matta turned over information to the NCAA about a barbecue that included in attendance junior recruits Aaron Craft, Josh Selby and Jordan McRae.  Pearl lied about the barbecue and his reward was a three-year “show cause” ban.)

As for Thomas — who went on to a successful playing career at Illinois — he was hired by Lewis and Clark in 2009.  Three years prior he said of Pearl: “It’s hard to forgive a snake.”

Now, if CSNChicago is right, Thomas might be in line to return to Illinois as an assistant to the man who replaced the “snake” at Tennessee after he himself had been bought down by a “rat.” 

How’s that for a tangled web?

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UT’s Martin Not Bummed By NIT Appearance… This Year

Tennessee saw a six-year NCAA Tournament streak come to an end yesterday, but Cuonzo Martin isn’t complaining about it.  That’s because he knows that he took over a program in disarray.

Bruce Pearl had shockingly turned the Vol program into a national power, but through a series of bad decisions he brought the roof down on himself over what would have been — if handled properly — a secondary NCAA violation. 

In turn, Martin was left with a thin roster comprised of players who — for the most part — hadn’t played much or hadn’t played well under Pearl last season.  On top of that, Martin had to get those players to buy in to a completely different style of basketball than the one they’d signed on to play.

That starting point has apparently helped Martin deal with the fact that his team isn’t going to the Big Dance:


“I go back to the fact that it’s a body of work.  We got out of the gates slow, did a great job down the stretch (and) for me as a coach, I can’t be upset with our guys because I saw the progress they made.  Unfortunately we didn’t do the job up front, and I say unfortunate because we didn’t win games.  (The players) were also learning in the system trying to find their way how to compete and how to play hard, so it’s hard as a coach to be upset with your guys.

Now you bring me a year from now and we’re standing here and that happens, it’d be a problem.  Those guys understand the system, they know what’s expected and the level we have to play to.  Barring injury, we should be an NCAA Tournament team next year.”


There’s no danger in Martin saying that, in raising expectations for himself in 2013.  Tennessee fans will no doubt have an “NCAAs or bust” mentality next year anyway.

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SEC Headlines 3/3/2012

1. South Carolina at Georgia.  NBA defections significantly altered this year’s Bulldogs team. Final regular season home game for Georgia’s seniors. Despite the worst record in the SEC, job security isn’t an issue for Darrin Horn.

2. LSU at Auburn. Win today by Auburn clinches 10th place in the conference. LSU looks to snap a two-game losing streak.

3. Alabama at Ole Miss.  Rebels still have NCAA Tournament ambitions. Alabama’s four freshman have grown up this season. Tide has turned it around – win today would be fifth straight.

4. Vanderbilt at Tennessee. Vols recent performance has made an impression at Vanderbilt. Second, third or fifth for Tennessee. A win today and  a Kentucky win tomorrow means a second-place tie for the Vols and a first-round conference tournament bye.

5. “Would these Vols be better if Bruce Pearl had not been fired?”

6. Arkansas at Mississippi State.  Both the Razorbacks and Bulldogs part of the middle-of-the-pack logjam in the SEC standings. Brian Bryant and Dee Bost will be recognized as part of Senior Day ceremonies in Starkville today.

7. Kentucky at Florida (Sunday).  Gators have never hosted a No. 1 team at the O’Connell Center. Florida’s the last thing that stands between the Wildcats and an undefeated conference run. Kentucky is thinking about Syracuse.

8. This weekend’s games and plenty of comments on Kentucky from ESPN’s analysts.

9. Jon Solomon: “The SEC currently resides in the denial stage of expansion.”  Scheduling options.

10. Florida linebacker Neiron Ball says he can play football again.

11.  Happy 50th birthday – Herschel Walker.

Extras

12. Gregg Doyel on the Willie Lyles investigation.  “The NCAA is screwing up the Oregon case.”

13. Harvard is on the verge of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946.

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Ex-UT Coach Pearl Launching Media Career, But Not In Knoxville

Since his NCAA-related ouster from Tennessee last March, Bruce Pearl has decided to stay in Knoxville and he’s taken a job as the vice president of a grocery supply company.  Now he’s about to launch a media career:

“I enjoy dealing with our vendors and customers (at the HT Hackney company), and I’m using my degree in business and marketing.  But these media opportunities are also what I envisioned when they (the NCAA) told me I couldn’t coach anymore.”

Pearl told The Knoxville News Sentinel that he will become a regular on Sirius XM radio, on the Tim Brando radio show, and on a radio station in Nashville.

Pearl has turned down opportunities from media outlets inside the Knoxville market:


“I felt like it would be unfair and unnecessary scrutiny on the current (Tennessee) staff.  I support Coach (Cuonzo) Martin and wish our players well.  I miss them.  But I feel the best way I can support them is to stay out of the way.”

For weeks after his dismissal Pearl continued to be seen on the UT campus.  That fact raised a few eyebrows.  And sources close to the ex-coach have said that he would like to one day return to his old office as Tennessee’s next basketball coach.

So it’s a bit of a surprise that he turned down chances to do media work in East Tennessee.  But it’s also a class move on Pearl’s part.

Martin is walking into a tough situation to begin with.  The cupboard is bare in terms of proven talent.  And many fans are already writing him off, angry that Pearl — now a Robin Hood figure for some — was driven away.  There is already talk among some fans of bringing back Bruce.

That last thing Martin needed was to have the man he replaced critiquing his work in the Knoxville media.

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SEC Headlines – 10/28/11

Between expansion news, multiple radio shows and phone calls and texts buzzing back and forth with sources… our headlines will be short and sweet today:


1.  This writer wants no more talk of a potential Alabama-LSU rematch.

2.  JaMychal Green is Bama’s basketball leader.

3.  Auburn’s Gene Chizik asks “Who are we going to be?”

4.  Tony Barbee expects more improvement and more wins in Year Two.

5.  Arkansas needs good first-down production against Vanderbilt.

6.  Mike Anderson wants to restore the Hogs’ “40 Minutes of Hell” style.

7.  Jarrett Lee and the LSU O-line are ready for Bama’s defense.

8.  Trent Johnson isn’t over the games that got away last season.

9.  Ole Miss is prepping for Auburn’s run-heavy attack.

10.  The goal for the Rebel basketball team?  Reach the NCAA tourney.

11.  If Dan Mullen wants to get his team to a bowl game, he’ll need to steer them past Kentucky tomorrow.

12.  MSU’s hoops team is past the chemistry issues and trials of last season.

13.  Looking for a 19th win over Georgia in 22 tries, here are five reasons Florida has dominated the Dawgs.

14.  Sworn complaints now reveal what defensive lineman Dominique Easley did during a fight after the UF-Alabama football game.

15.  Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario gives Florida another scoring option.

16.  Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will get his second shot at his homestate school tomorrow… and he’ll be looking for redemption.

17.  It’ll be a rebuilding year for the basketball Dawgs.

18.  Kentucky’s big defensive line will try to slow Mississippi State’s rushing attack tomorrow.

19.  John Calipari says nothing will come easy for his Cats.

20.  Here are the keys for South Carolina as they travel to Tennessee tomorrow.

21.  The closest you’ll get to hoops coverage in the Palmetto State is the fact that Bruce Ellington will be healthy enough to play football tomorrow night.

22.  The Vols and Gamecocks will be relying on young players.

23.  Cuonzo Martin kept his cool when peppered with Bruce Pearl questions at media day yesterday.

24.  Vandy hopes Arkansas will get off to another slow start tomorrow.

25.  The Commodore basketball squad is one of the favorites in the SEC this year.

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SEC Headlines – 10/13/11 Part Two

1.  Florida still hasn’t named a starting quarterback for Saturday.

2.  Was the Gators’ defense given too much hype?

3.  Hoops coach Billy Donovan is close to signing a contract extension that would take him through his 20th season in Gainesville.  (This year will be his 16th.)

4.  Georgia’s offensive line is the heaviest in American football — college or NFL.

5.  Highly-recruited backup quarterback Hutson Mason says he’ll have to decide what’s best for his future at the end of the season.

6.  There’s a lot of negativity surrounding Kentucky’s football team… and it’s not just in the press.

7.  During the introduction at Kentucky’s tip-off luncheon yesterday, Matt Jones of KentuckySportsRadio.com passed on proper decorum and took a cheap shot at the personal life of Rick Pitino.  (Personally, I get a kick out of KSR.com and I share the same hometown in Kentucky with Jones, but this one went a foot or two over the line.  Best to leave a man’s personal life out of it.)

8.  John Calipari says winning a national championship without having any players drafted into the NBA would be a disappointment.

9.  Carolina’s Steve Spurrier wants Connor Shaw to keep wearing a glove on his throwing hand.  (If he’s looking for a glove, this beats this.)

10.  With no clear #2 quarterback the Gamecocks will be walking a tightrope the rest of the way.

11.  Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is frustrated by his squad’s struggles.

12.  Cuonzo Martin will have to turn Bruce Pearl’s guys into his guys this season.

13.  Jordan Rodgers took most of the first-team snaps yesterday, but he’s not been named Vandy’s starting quarterback yet.

14.  Whoever starts for VU, he may want to be careful.  Georgia’s defense has banged up three straight opposing quarterbacks.

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Pearl Passes On Coaching, Stays In Knoxville

Cuonzo Martin’s job isn’t getting any easier.  Not only will Tennessee’s new basketball coach have to compete with a thin, inexperienced lineup this winter… but the man who left him that lineup will still be in town.

Former Vol coach Bruce Pearl has decided not to take what was reported to be a $500,000 per year offer to coach in the NBA’s D-league.  Instead, he will serve as vice president of marketing with a Knoxville-based grocery company.

“I worked for 33 years — my entire coaching career — to get to a place like Knoxville,” Pearl said in a statement.  “This is where my family lives, this is home.  We have made life-long friends here and we are very blessed to have this opportunity.”

Forbes magazing ranks HT Hackney as the 82nd largest privately held company in the country with annual revenues of about $4 billion.

Pearl, of course, has the right to live anywhere he likes.  But his decision to stay in Knoxville probably won’t help his successor.  Some close to Pearl have suggested that the coach would like to bide his time and possibly return to UT once his show cause penalty ends in three years.

If Martin struggles as expected with the roster Pearl left him, you can be sure some Vol fans will begin to countdown to the moment when Pearl’s penalty ends.  That said, if chancellor Jimmy Cheek remains at Tennessee, it’s hard to imagine Pearl getting another shot with the Vols, regardless of fan sentiment.

Whether he holds out hope of a return or not — and we’re guessing he’d deny that publicly — you can for now say to goodbye to Bruce Pearl the basketball coach… and say hello to Bruce Pearl the grocery supply marketer.

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Pearl Hosts A Barbecue For Media Members; Says He Won’t Appeal Show Cause Ban

Showing he still has his sense of humor, ex-Tennessee hoops coach Bruce Pearl hosted a press conference today at his house.  On the menu?  Barbecue.

Pearl told the assembled media that he will not appeal the three-year show cause ban levied against him by the NCAA yesterday.  He also said that he hopes the penalty will not prevent him from someday returning to the college game.

Additionally, he took responsibility for the rule violation that led to his cover-up that led to his downfall.

“I was in control of that situation, and I didn’t handle things right at my house.  Had I been more forthcoming in my interview with the NCAA, we wouldn’t be here.”

However, Pearl also said that it’s obvious he didn’t get much credit for eventually going back to the NCAA to fess up.  “I believe I should have gotten more credit for coming forward and telling the truth, but the damage that was done was too great.”

Like his ex-assistants and his ex-assistants’ attorney, Pearl made it clear that he was not pleased with the alleged bump violation that, in the end, was not found to be an issue.

“The timing of that charge led directly to the termination of my coaching staff.  Our chancellor and our athletic director went on record as saying that supposed bump violation was the beginning of the end for me…

I waited a lifetime for a job like Tennessee… it was my hope our staff could have survived.”

It’s an unbelievably sad end for a coach who had done wonders to elevate the basketball reputation of the entire SEC.  Pearl’s arrival in Knoxville happened to coincide with a dip in the fortunes of perennial league big dog, Kentucky.  In other words, Pearl and UT helped fill an unusual void at or near the top of the SEC standings.

But ultimately, show cause penalties are death sentences.  Do the research, you’ll find that the only survivors are from tiny schools or tiny non-revenue sports.  There was no way for Pearl and his staff to survive at Tennessee.

Now the hope for Pearl is that he can return to coaching somewhere, someday.  Most show cause victims do not.  But because Pearl’s punishment had more to do with his cover-up than his crime, we believe it’s likely someone will give him another shot down the road.

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