JOE BIDDLE: Tennessee fans need to forget Bruce Pearl

JOE BIDDLE: Tennessee fans need to forget Bruce Pearl (Image 1)

Cuonzo is now Gone-zo. Get over it.
One day, Cuonzo Martin led everyone to believe he was happy to be Tennessee's basketball coach. He was looking forward to signing a new contract that would have padded his bank account by $500,000 and give him a two-year extension. So he said.

Hours later, Cuonzo dropped a stink bomb in Athletics Director's Dave Hart's lap. He told Hart he was accepting an offer to be Cal's new basketball coach.

Martin said he was doing what was best for him and his family. They all say that on their way out. And Martin's introductory press conference on the Left Coast sounded eerily similar to the one he gave in Knoxville three years ago.

Coaches come. Coaches go. That's what they do. It almost never ends with bouquets and champagne.

Martin had his reasons for leaving. He had 40,000 reasons when that many fans urged the university to get a new coach. The biggest reason, if they do or don't admit it, is that Cuonzo Martin wasn't Bruce Pearl.

Martin disciplined his players. He made them go to class and do the right thing in public and private. He was blue collar, no nonsense. He didn't have Pearl's personality that had Pearl gain favor with fans from five to 85 years old. Pearl was a live wire with the fans and a media magnet. He did the talk shows, tweeted, held lively press conferences. And he charmed everyone from the custodians to the ushers at Thompson-Boling Arena to the students, who often ate the pizza Pearl purchased for them. Pearl showed up topless at a women's game to support Coach Pat Summit.

Martin was an introvert compared to Pearl. He struggled to make the NCAA Tournament. Only by his team catching fire down the stretch did they make it for the first time in three seasons. Even then, they had to win a play-in game to earn an 11-seed. Only then did the naysayers get behind Martin. Some never did.

Pearl proved Tennessee basketball's coach must be part-salesman, part stand-up comedian, part media star and if he has enough time, put a NCAA Tournament team on the court.

In that regard, Martin was not a comfortable fit on the Hill. He would not try to be Pearl. Nor should he. He had his own set of values and would not sacrifice them just to tickle the fan base's funny bone.

I wish Martin well in California, although I can't see Berkeley being his cup of tea. He is a solid citizen, but he'll have to win at Cal, or he'll be replaced. That's college basketball.

His shocking departure leaves Hart in a lurch. There are few quality coaches out of a job at this time. Tennessee needs to pay what it takes to get an established head coach. It won't be easy. Last season's team was gutted by three starters running to the NBA Draft.

Hart needs to find a coach with a reputation for recruiting top Division I players. He needs to hire a coach who can connect with the fan base, with the students, with the media.

I'm not sure there is a coach out there dying to coach basketball at Tennessee. They've turned their back on Wichita State's Gregg Marshall not once, but twice. Don't look for him to come running. VCU's Shaka Smart is waiting for Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski or Bill Self to retire. He has turned down better jobs than Tennessee.

Martin was the 11th highest paid coach in the SEC. Even with the proposed $500,000 raise, he would remain the 11th highest paid SEC coach.

Hart will likely have to settle for a mid-major coach on his way up the coaching ladder.
That's where they found Bruce Pearl.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at  

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