Just when it appeared that California was backed against a wall and forced to make another debatable athletic decision, the Bears are about to announce the hire of Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin.
The name comes straight out of leftfield, after a couple of weeks’ search in which retiring coach Mike Montgomery lobbied hard for the hire of assistant Travis DeCuire, and names like Xavier’s Chris Mack, Cal-Irvine’s Russell Turner and Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack were subsequently batted around.
Only time will tell whether Martin is a good choice, but for Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour, it’s at least a proven coach who got the Vols to the NCAA Sweet 16 this year, and it comes on the heels of some PR disasters in Berkeley, such as a shaky funding plan for the renovation of Memorial Stadium, Cal’s league-worst graduation figures and Academic Progress Rate shortfall, and the first-year miseries of new football coach Sonny Dykes. For now, this represents a positive step for Barbour, who utilized a search firm in the process.
The search appeared to be stalling, and I figured what was about to unfold was this: DeCuire was Barbour’s likely man all along, and after a couple of weeks’ futile pursuit of a name candidate, Cal would announce DeCuire with the advisory that it searched the country high and low, and the best man was right here all along. You know that drill. (This isn’t to diminish DeCuire, a Mercer Island grad who coached at Sammamish High and Green River before moving up the coaching ladder. It’s just that Martin comes with a thicker portfolio.)
Martin coached at Missouri State before moving on to Tennessee, where he went 24-13 this year, finished with a rush and fell to Michigan in the Sweet 16 on a controversial finish.
Martin played for Gene Keady at Purdue, and one obvious question he’ll have to answer is, does he have any familiarity with West Coast recruiting?
For the Vols: It’s not the first time they’ve been jilted unexpectedly by one of their marquee coaches. Lane Kiffin bolted Knoxville for the USC football job vacated by Pete Carroll early in 2010 after just one season. You’d assume the reaction around that city wouldn’t be quite as heated this time.