February 24th, 2014 02:00 PM║ Posted By: John Pennington ║ Permalink
║ Schools: Tennessee
Tags: Missouri State, NCAA, SEC, UT
Yesterday in Nashville, Bruce Pearl dressed himself in orange and told a radio station’s fan festival: “I’m still a former coach of the University of Tennessee. That’s who I am, and I’m proud of that.”
Meanwhile, current Vol basketball coach Cuonzo Martin is watching what’s left of his own fan support disappear. Many Volunteer fans wish he were the “former coach” and that Pearl would be reinstated in Knoxville.
Pearl told fans Sunday that they should support Martin. He declined to comment on the possibility of returning to UT. But if he really wanted to help Martin — or if he thought there wasn’t at least a chance of his returning — he’d have stated flatly, “That’s not going to happen.” Instead, folks close to the coach say he is naturally monitoring the situation at Tennessee.
A majority of UT fans have already made it clear via social media, talk radio, messageboards and online petitions that their old coach back (even if the NCAA puts a couple of watchdogs on this tail).
At the moment, it’s extremely unlikely that many of the same University of Tennessee administrators and top boosters who let Pearl go — in the hopes of dodging NCAA sanctions — will backtrack and invite him to return. Yet the grassroots movement is gathering steam. Fans make statements with ticket sales and the number of empty seats for UT hoops games has been growing.
In many fans’ eyes, Martin is nothing more than an obstacle blocking Pearl’s return.
Tennessee was expected to finish third in the SEC this season (that’s still technically possible) and reach the NCAA Tournament (that’s not likely). It’s been a disappointing year on Rocky Top and Martin can’t escape that fact. But a quick look at a similar situation suggests Martin’s real problem is who he followed, not his record.
Martin took the Tennessee job in 2011 with an NCAA cloud still hanging over Thompson-Boling Arena. Bigger fish weren’t interested in the job so the Missouri State coach jumped at the opportunity when it was offered. Since then he’s gone 19-15 (finishing second in the SEC), 20-13, and now 15-11. Overall at Tennessee his record is 54-39 which is a winning clip of .580. Over the last three seasons, only John Calipari and Billy Donovan have posted better league marks. But Martin has never reached an NCAA tourney and he looks bubble-strapped again.
Martin sits on a very hot seat.
But Prior to Pearl, Tennessee’s coach from 2001 through 2005 was Buzz Peterson. His first three years at Tennessee looked like this: 15-16, 17-12, and 15-14. He even had a losing SEC record of 23-25. But there was little debate about a fourth year; Peterson got one. He then went 14-17 in that fourth season and still there were many who wanted to see the personable coach get a fifth year to prove himself.
Martin’s three-year record: 54-39, .580. Peterson’s first three years: 47-42, .528. Peterson got a fourth year. Most betting men would put money on Martin getting the boot.
Now, it can be said that Pearl raised the bar and that UT fans are no longer willing to accept anything less than NCAA Tournament berths. Fine. But the bottom line is Martin’s troubles have more to do with Pearl’s record (and his availability come August) than they do his own. Peterson did less than Martin but he felt less heat at the same stage of his UT tenure.
As we noted on Friday, Pearl’s reputation around East Tennessee has grown with each game he hasn’t coached. Martin can’t live up to the comparison. If Martin is let go and Pearl isn’t re-hired, it’s doubtful anyone else could live up to Pearl’s legend, either. (Not to mention this fact: What coach would want to sign on with Tennessee when thousands of Vol fans are signing a petition to bring in some other guy?) This writer wonders whether or not even Pearl could live up to the hype that currently surrounds him if he were to be re-hired.
Martin sure can’t.
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