Well, that’s awkward

It’s no secret that Bruce Pearl still loves the University of Tennessee, despite being tossed under the bus by chancellor Jimmy Cheek and then-athletic director Mike Hamilton three years ago after lying to the NCAA. In fact, Pearl would coach at Tennessee in a heartbeat if he were asked to do so. Or, at least, would have. He’s now the head coach at Auburn, much to the chagrin of the Pearl loyalists within the UT fan base.

But check out Pearl’s words to Athlon on Cuonzo Martin leaving Tennessee:

“I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t,” Pearl told Athlon Sports this week. “Cuonzo didn’t seem to be happy there. I know they talked about the fact that he had to overcome following me, and I understand that we had success, but they still had 18,000 people come to every single game. Overcome that or not, they got great support in Knoxville, great facilities, great university. The embracing needs to work both ways, so I’m happy for coach Martin.”

“He maintained a level of success that we worked really hard to create,” Pearl told Athlon. “I’m grateful to coach Martin as a former Tennessee head basketball coach, and a Vol for life, I’m grateful for the job he did because he kept it going. I wish him nothing but success at Cal, and if he wasn’t happy there and he didn’t feel appreciated there, then I’m glad he’s not there because I want somebody there that wants to be there. So I appreciate the job he did and I’m happy for him and his family that they got a chance to move on.”

That whole “Vol For Life” admission from Auburn’s coach has to be a bit awkward for Auburn’s fans.

A snail’s pace coaching search

If you’re anxious to know who the new men’s basketball coach will be at the University of Tennessee, the operative phrase seems to be — in the words of late Scott County Sheriff Mike Cross — “hurry up and wait.”

We’re more than 72 hours post-Cuonzo now, with no real news on the coaching front. And it appears that there won’t be a new coach named until after the Easter weekend.

In fact, the biggest news of the coaching search thus far was Dave Hart’s trip to the Knoxville Zoo with his grandkids on Thursday. 

Of course, most fans made much ado of nothing in regards to the UT athletic director’s outing with his grandchildren. Based on reports, Tennessee is still early enough in this process that Hart isn’t even directly involved with face-to-face conversations with potential candidates. 

Instead, the UTAD’s front office folks appear to be reaching out to numerous candidates, doing their homework on each and gauging their interest. Just how in-depth are they in these preliminary stages? Very. According to one source, they’ve even reached out to first-year Chattanooga coach Will Wade, who was most recently Shaka Smart’s right-hand man at Virginia Commonwealth. 

Wade has a very bright future ahead of him and will likely be the head coach at a big-time college program eventually. But obviously that job isn’t going to be at Tennessee in 2014, unless Tennessee’s coaching search falls flat on its face. But that’s an indicator of how serious the UT brass are taking this search in its preliminary stages.

Ultimately, Tennessee will whittle a substantial list down to just a few targets. When that will be is anyone’s guess. It could be Saturday, but is more likely to be Monday or thereabouts. That list will be based on Tennessee’s interest in those candidates, but it will also be based on those candidates’ interest in Tennessee.

One thing that seems certain at this point is that Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and VCU’s Smart (that one was a given anyway) aren’t going to be on that list. Additionally, Minnesota’s Richard Pitino and Nebraska’s Tim Miles have indicated that they aren’t interested . . . for what that’s worth, which is quite little at this point. 

Those who will be on the list? Guys like Virginia Tech’s Michael White and Southern Miss’s Donnie Tyndall are guys that Tennessee can probably have if Hart wants them. First, though, he may be more likely to pursue Xavier’s Chris Mack, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, or Colorado’s Tad Boyle.

Also, reports indicate that former Kentucky (and Georgia) coach Tubby Smith — currently at Texas Tech — has reached out to Tennessee, and the Vols can have him if they want him, but it seems unlikely that Hart would go after a retread like Smith. Reports also indicate that former UCLA coach Ben Howland has reached out to UT, though I still have my doubts that Howland is all that serious about the job. And, even if he is, additional reports indicate that Tennessee may not be too serious about him, though he’s likely on Hart’s list somewhere.

The dark horse in this coaching search is Missouri’s opening. Missouri is generally considered to be just as good an opportunity for a basketball coach as Tennessee when it comes to college basketball in the SEC. While Cuonzo Martin’s leap from Knoxville to Cal was stunning, Frank Haith’s sudden departure from Missouri for Tulsa was even more stunning. There’s definitely going to be some overlap between the list of coaches Tennessee identifies as targets and the list of coaches Missouri identifies as targets.

Next week, things are liable to get very interesting. News may break tomorrow, but that seems unlikely.

Study: Rates of heart attack, stroke plummeting in diabetics

Even as the rate of diabetics (particularly type II) soars, the rates of heart attack and stroke in diabetics are plummeting, leading to a better outlook for patients with type I and type II diabetes, a new federal study shows:

For the new study, the CDC tallied complication rates from 1990 to 2010 for diabetics ages 20 or older.

During that time, the heart attack rate fell 68 percent, from 141 to 45.5 per 10,000 diabetics, according to hospital records.

The decline was so great that, despite the growing ranks of diabetics, the actual number hospitalized with heart attacks dropped from more than 140,000 to about 136,000.

The stroke rate fell less dramatically – but still declined by more than half, finishing at 53 per 10,000. The heart attack and stroke rates for diabetics are essentially even now, lead author Edward Gregg noted.

Hart’s Search: The first full day

If you’ve followed very many of these college coaching searches, you know that things are very rarely what they seem. With that in mind, here’s what we think we know about Tennessee’s basketball coaching vacancy after the first full day post-Cuonzo:

Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino — the son of Louisville’s Rick Pitino — is on Tennessee’s short list:

But Pitino isn’t interested:

Ditto for Nebraska’s Tim Miles:

Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall is a candidate:

Beyond that, everything is very much speculation.

As long as we’re speculation, allow me:

If Dave Hart is indeed looking seriously at Donnie Tyndall and Richard Pitino, and ESPN’s Goodman is typically accurate (remember, he’s the one who broke the Martin-to-Cal story), that means Hart has already ruled out guys like Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart. Obviously Smart wasn’t coming to Tennessee, despite the wild wishes of some unreasonable fans, but many UT fans were hoping against hope that UT might be able to lure Marshall away from Wichita State, though as I opined last night and again this morning, that isn’t likely.

Along with speculation, let me offer this opinion: If UT has indeed dipped far enough into the bucket to be bobbing for apples like Pitino and Tyndall, I sincerely hope that Hart has had a serious conversation with someone connected to Louisiana Tech’s Michael White. I spelled out my case for White this morning; I won’t go there again. But let’s let the LaTech resident columnist in Shreveport make the case for us:

Michael White has provided quite the upgrade from what had become a second-class basketball program. In three seasons, White has engineered Louisiana Tech to 74 wins against just 30 losses, including a 79-71 win over Georgia in the second round of the NIT on Saturday morning in Athens, Ga.

Forget the played out hashtag, #WeAreLaTech, how about #WeAreNoLongerBelowAverage?

Look, it’s this simple: Pitino has a $1.25 million salary and a $1.5 million buyout. And he was 8-10 in Big Ten play this season. White’s salary and buyout are less than half that. White doesn’t have the eye-catching last name, but how well did Tennessee’s last legacy coaching hire work out?

As Andy Taylor told Aunt Bea over her broken freezer: “Call. The. Man.”

UT job is what it is

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Michael White, Louisiana Tech

 As Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart gets elbows-deep into his search for Cuonzo Martin’s replacement, it would do Vols fans well to remember what the job is and what it isn’t.

Last night I presented a list of candidates whose names we will almost certainly hear mentioned in connection with the Tennessee job. And no doubt Hart will reach out to at least some of the names on that list.

But, in the meantime, a reality check may be in order for fans who think Tennessee is one of the best basketball jobs in the country.

It isn’t.

I read a fan’s rambling this morning who said that Hart “will have some explaining to do” if he doesn’t land Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall or former UCLA coach Ben Howland. 

Fans will be fans — which means they will be biased — but let’s face it: Hart will have to explain nothing to no one if his coach is someone other than Marshall or Howland, because few people think there is a likely chance either of those guys wind up in Knoxville.

Tennessee is not one of the top five or 10 jobs in America. It isn’t one of the top 20 jobs in America. Realistically, there are probably 30-40 basketball coaching jobs in America that are better than the Tennessee job. Tennessee has top-notch facilities and an enthusiastic fan base but not much else.

That doesn’t mean the Vols have to settle for the 41st best coach in America. Different coaches look for different things. Coaches from the East Coast aren’t keen on moving to the West Coast, or vice-versa, and some coaches have ties to the South, etc. It simply means that Tennessee can’t simply snap its fingers and have a bunch of coaches line up waiting for an offer to move to Knoxville.

I’ve made no secret of my preference for Gregg Marshall. He is the first guy I would reach out to if I were in Hart’s shoes, and we have every reasonable expectation that Hart will reach out to him.

We also have a lot of reasons to expect Marshall to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Marshall would have crawled to Knoxville to coach at one point. He desperately wanted the job in 2001, when then-athletic director Doug Dickey ultimately went with Tulsa’s Buzz Peterson. For that matter, Marshall wanted the job again later, when then-athletic director Mike Hamilton passed on him.

The college basketball landscape changes quickly, and it isn’t 2006 anymore.

These days, Marshall has built Wichita State into a national powerhouse. He is coming off an undefeated regular season and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a Final Four appearance the year before that. He’s gone from a guy who would have salivated at the opportunity to come to Tennessee to a guy who can reasonably expect to name his job. 

Marshall’s job is 100 percent safe at Wichita State, and he’s pulling down almost $1.8 million a year to coach there. So he doesn’t need the money and he doesn’t need the security.

He also doesn’t need to go somewhere else to garner bigger headlines, improve his stock, or prove himself. Jumping to Tennessee would, in fact, be a gamble. Marshall can sit and wait on the job he wants to come open. He isn’t going to stop winning at Wichita State. But if he has a couple of lackluster seasons in Knoxville — and have you seen the roster that’s coming back for next season? — his stock could fall significantly.

I would make Marshall say no. I would make Marshall say no to a very handsome paycheck. But, ultimately, I believe he would do just that — say no.

As for Howland, he has a resume that is a mile long. His reputation as a program builder is superb. But he’s also 56 years old. Is he at the point in his career that he doesn’t have the energy to rebuild another program? Would he rather wait for a taylor-made situation to present itself? There’s an argument to be made that he would.

In the meantime, some of the other names being tossed around are names that you have to reach out to if you’re Dave Hart, but they’re names that are probably a long shot. If Xavier’s Chris Mack wouldn’t come to Tennessee for $2 million in 2011, why would he come to Tennessee now? Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin has turned down more money than Tennessee is likely to pay from schools that are better jobs than Tennessee can offer. Richard Pitino is an up-and-comer who has a rich pedigree and a ton of experience in big-time college basketball, but he has spent only one year at Minnesota in the Big Ten. Is he ready to make another move already? 

Which leaves us with a much shorter list of “safe” options. That list, of course, would assume that Hart doesn’t score a coup, and I certainly would not be surprised if he did. But, assuming he doesn’t, who is left on the list? If you’re going by the conditions Hart spelled out at his press conference Tuesday afternoon, you’re going to look for someone who currently isn’t on anybody’s list . . . or someone like Belmont’s Rick Byrd, who is probably an unrealistic candidate since he has never been seriously considered by Tennessee in the past.

Or you look for an up-and-comer. Hart, after all, didn’t rule out taking a gamble on a relative newcomer. The good news is that there are several guys out there who are up-and-comers who look like good options — at least on paper.

The one who gets the most attention, obviously, is Dayton’s Archie Miller. I’m not sold on Miller; he missed the postseason completely last year and was a regular season 5th place team in the Atlantic 10 this year before his team’s tournament run to the Elite Eight. But, as they say, “Tennessee could do worse.”

Much worse, no doubt. In the meantime, if I’m Dave Hart and I’ve attracted no interest from guys like Marshall or Howland and I’ve decided that I’m going to have to set my sights on a mid-major up-and-comer, I go hunting in the same place where Mike Hamilton went hunting for a football coach a few years ago: Ruston.

Michael White coaches at the same school — Louisiana Tech — where Hamilton found Derek Dooley, but the logo emblazoned on their polos is where the similarities between White and Dooley end. 

White spent his time as an assistant at Ole Miss, where he was regarded as an ace recruiter. Not just an ace recruiter anywhere, but an ace recruiter in the South . . . important for Tennessee, for obvious reasons.

At Louisiana Tech, White has a .705 winning percentage in three seasons, and is 56-15 the past two seasons, including 29-5 in league play while twice tying for first place. This year’s team advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT before ending its season.

To trot out that old cliche again, Tennessee could do worse than Michael White. Obviously White, assuming he’s successful, would be the top candidate to replace Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss when the time comes. He is after all, one of Ole Miss’s favorite sons, and one of the school’s most recognizable basketball alumni. But that’s the way it goes in the coaching world. If you’re looking for a guy who is guaranteed not to leave you better try to talk Bernard King into coaching. Otherwise, Michael White wouldn’t be a bad option.

Martin’s gone. Who’s up?

Over the next several days, you’re likely to hear several names mentioned in connection with the Tennessee basketball vacancy. Some are legitimate candidates. Some aren’t. Here are a few of them:

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1.) Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)

There was a time when Gregg Marshall would have crawled from Wichita to Knoxville to coach at Tennessee. But Tennessee didn’t want him; Mike Hamilton wanted Cuonzo Martin instead. And Marshall has since turned down better job offers than Tennessee. Plus he makes $1.75 million annually, which is a darned good salary for a mid-major school…although, can we really consider Wichita State a mid-major now? After all, the Shockers just set an NCAA record with a perfect, 35-0 regular season. Will Marshall come to Tennessee? Unless Tennessee is willing to loosen its purse strings, it ain’t happening. But the hand grasping the purse these days belongs to Dave Hart, not Mike Hamilton. The rules of the game have changed. Still, it seems unlikely. But you can bet that Marshall will be at the top of Hart’s list.

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2.) Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth)

The 35-year-old Smart is attracting all sorts of suitors since leading VCU to national prominence, including four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a Final Four in 2011. And, one by one, he has rejected those suitors and gradually increased his pay to $1.5 million annually (most recently in 2013, when he rejected overtures from Minnesota). He’s also turned away interest by NC State (meh), Illinois (hmm) and UCLA (um, wow!), among others. Clearly he is not a guy preoccupied by bright lights and deep pockets. And he’s not coming to Tennessee. Next.

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3.) Archie Miller (Dayton)

Six months ago, no one would have known who 35-year-old Archie Miller was. Six weeks ago, same. (His real name is Ryan Joseph Miller, if you’re wondering.) He wasn’t even the most well-known guy in his family…that would’ve been his brother, Sean, the coach at Arizona (which also made a deep NCAA Tournament run this year). But that was before Archie took Dayton to the Elite Eight. He shredded brackets with a first round win over Ohio State, the school where he used to coach, and then kept his team rolling, all the way up until they narrowly lost to Florida one game away from the Final Four. After his Cinderella run ended, Dayton extended his contract through 2019 and Miller said he was committed to the school. Which is exactly what you would expect him to say. Tennessee fan afford him, but will it want him? Hart said today that proven success is a prerequisite…but that Tennessee might also consider an up-and-coming coach. In other words, UT won’t consider a rising star, but then again it might. But has a postseason miss last year followed by a fifth place finish in the Atlantic 10 this year allowed Miller’s star to rise far enough? Gut says no. But don’t count him out.

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4.) Ben Howland (formerly of UCLA)

Ben Howland spent 10 years at UCLA, leading the Bruins to two Final Fours in 2007 and 2008, but being bounced from his job last year after missing the NCAA Tournament two of his past four seasons. The 56-year-old Howland did an amazing job building the Northern Arizona program in the mid 1990s. And then he did the same thing at Pittsburgh, taking the Panthers to two straight Sweet Sixteens before catching UCLA’s eye. And he wants to get back into coaching. In fact, he was a candidate for the same Marquette job that Cuonzo Martin was a candidate for. Tennessee could do worse. But Howland could probably do better — at least in his eyes. I see him as similar to Phillip Fulmer: A ton of success, a few lean years after the game passed him by a bit, fired from his dream job, wants to get back into coaching, but wants to be selective about the job he takes because he’s too old and too tired to put a lot of effort into rebuilding a program. And, let’s face it, it’s gonna take a little work to return Tennessee to an SEC title contender.


5.) Mick Cronin (Cincinnati)

Who can resist this potential storyline? Tennessee steals Cincinnati’s football coach, then goes after its basketball coach? Hey, don’t laugh. It isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. The 42-year-old Howland needed some time to rebuild the Cincinnati program, but he’s had three consecutive 20-win seasons, and went to the Sweet Sixteen last year. And he successfully recruited Lance Stephenson. But he’s also rejected overtures from Minnesota, Illinois and NC State, and bragged just last month that he has turned down “million dollar raises” from schools wanting to hire him (he makes $1.5 million at Cincy). On the other hand, he has also requested a facilities overhaul and hasn’t gotten it (so far). Few schools can compete with Tennessee when it comes to facilities. It’s unlikely, but don’t rule it out completely.

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6.) Richard Pitino (Minnesota)

No, not the one on the right. The one on the left. Junior. Pitino has spent time in the SEC (Florida), coached for his father at Louisville on two separate occasions, and spent two seasons as head coach at FIU before moving to a much colder climate last year to take over for Tubby Smith at Minnesota. In his first season there, he led the Golden Gophers to 25 wins. They failed to make the NCAA Tournament, but won the NIT championship as a nice consolation prize. He’s unlikely to leave, but it’s a call Tennessee has to make if the Vols’ top two or three candidates say no.

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7.) Chris Mack (Xavier)

Chris Mack took Xavier to two Sweet Sixteen appearances in his first three seasons, while twice winning the Atlantic 10 and achieving the school’s first-ever Top 25 ranking. But he has missed the NCAA Tournament field two of his past three seasons, which has caused his star to fade ever so slightly. Mack was who California wanted before the Bears wanted Cuonzo Martin, who they scooped up after Mack said no. Mack also turned down a $2 million offer to replace Bruce Pearl in 2011. Are things likely to change this time around? Could missing the NCAA Tournament for a second time in three years cause Mack to realize that, if Tennessee comes calling, he had better get out while the getting out is good? 

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8.) Rick Byrd (Belmont)

When you start talking about Knoxville natives who would salivate at the opportunity to come back home, you begin the conversation with Rick Byrd. Byrd did a nice job at Belmont back in the 1990s, when Belmont was an NAIA school. And, as the school transitioned to an NCAA school, he has done an excellent job building the program there — leading the team to eight NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons before going to the NIT quarterfinals this season. It’s a short drive from Nashville to Knoxville, but Byrd — at age 60 — is ancient by coaching standards. Would his old hometown give him his first shot at a major school? Hart did say proven success was a prerequisite, and Byrd has had a lot of it.

If none of those eight names pan out, a few more to keep an eye on are Louisiana Tech’s Michael White (yeah, that’s Derek Dooley’s old school), Southern Miss’s Donnie Tyndall and Colorado’s Tad Boyle. 

Not fans’ fault Martin is gone

Can we establish one thing right up front? Coaches don’t shoot themselves in the foot to prove a point with fans. They just don’t.

Cuonzo Martin’s departure from Tennessee for Cal has nothing to do with 36,000 fans signing a “Bring Back Bruce” petition, no matter how much the media wants to harp on it or how much a few Martin loyalists within the UT fan base want us to believe it to be so. 

ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil rips Tennessee’s administration and fan base in a column this afternoon, saying that the Vols got what they deserve for not supporting Martin through the rough times. Her take is that UT has now decided that it wants Martin, but it’s too late to take it back.

O’Neil, like most sports columnists paid for their hack jobs, is trying to see how much nonsense she can pack into a single column. 

Based on everything we know, we can reasonably assume that Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart was not Cuonzo Martin’s biggest supporter. He made some comments during the regular season that received little attention but that were very pointed in their meaning, basically saying that going to the NIT would not cut it. Would he have fired Martin if Tennessee hadn’t made the tournament? Maybe si, maybe no. I’m on record as saying probably not; probably, he would have given Martin another year. But one thing is for sure: When Tennessee made its run to the Sweet 16, Hart’s hands were tied. You don’t usually fire a coach who has just made the NCAA Tournament — although there is a bit of precedence for that sort of thing at Tennessee (just ask Don Devoe and Jerry Green). You certainly don’t fire a coach who has just advanced to the Sweet 16. But that doesn’t mean that Hart was happy with the situation. In fact, given the lack of new contract details we saw in the two weeks after Martin “withdrew” from the Marquette search, we can reasonably conclude that he was not happy. 

As for the fans, who O’Neil contends “stopped wanting” Martin gone? Take a ride around the orange-tinted fringes of the social media world this evening and find me the legions of UT fans who are crying in their sweet tea because Martin left for Cal.

You won’t find them, because they aren’t there.

Sure, a few Tennessee fans are upset. But, by and large, the fan base is not disappointed. When news of Martin’s departure broke around lunch time today, the fan base collectively shrugged and said, “Okay, what’s next?”

Maybe they’re wrong for doing so. Maybe they let a great coach get away. I disagree, but maybe. Still, it proves O’Neil’s self-aggrandizing column complete malarkey.

Here’s the bottom line: Coaches don’t shoot themselves in the foot because the fan base turned on them. That doesn’t mean signing a petition for a coach’s ouster before the season was even through was a smart thing to do. I thought it was a head-scratcher then, and I think it’s a head-scratcher now. But, then, I don’t sign petitions as a general rule. The only petition you’ll catch me signing is one that actually means something — like when a friend needs a few voters’ endorsement to qualify for an election bid. 

Coaches whose fan bases turn on them take better job offers. Or they take lateral job offers. I blogged several times late in the season that Martin would likely leave if he got a better job offer; might leave if he got a lateral job offer.

Martin to Marquette? That would have been a lateral job offer. Maybe even a better job offer, depending on who you ask.

Martin to Cal? Um, no.

Might Martin succeed at Cal? He might. But Cal is largely a coaching graveyard; it’s where promising coaches go to die. Mike Montgomery won four conference championships and enjoyed 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (including a Final Four) at Stanford. He just retired after six seasons at Cal in which he won the conference title once but failed to recapture the success he enjoyed at Stanford. Cal hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 1960, or the Sweet Sixteen since 1997. Cal has won one conference championship in 54 years.

Bottom line? Coaches don’t go from the upper tier of the SEC to a Pac 12 wasteland — especially when they have zero ties to the West Coast — to prove a point to fans.

Coaches go from the upper tier of the SEC to a Pac 12 wasteland because they see the writing on the wall, and Cuonzo Martin is no fool. We don’t know what conversations have taken place between Martin and Hart over the past couple of weeks, but one thing we can be reasonably sure of: Hart wasn’t sold on Martin. Never was. And while you can’t fire a guy who just made it to the Sweet Sixteen, you can fire a guy who has failed to make the 68-team NCAA Tournament field for a third time in four years. Which was exactly where Tennessee was headed next season with Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes off to the NBA and Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton having used up all their eligibility.

Maybe Hart was wrong for not getting behind Martin, particularly after Martin’s run to the Sweet Sixteen. Some have argued that Hart was never going to be happy with Martin because Martin wasn’t “his guy.” Maybe. 

Either way, it was a no-brainer for Martin. Stick with a place where you may possibly get fired in another year if you don’t make the NCAA Tournament, where you know you are losing four starters and are working with the least-talented corps of post players in your school’s modern history? Or take the first offer you get and run? 

Martin was gonna take the first offer he got and run. He would’ve taken the Marquette offer, but it never came. It went to Steve Wojciechowski instead. Cal, on the other hand, came through. No one saw it coming, including Hart, who said this afternoon that he wasn’t aware Martin was even in the running for the Golden Bear vacancy until this morning. But it came.

And it was a no-brainer for Martin to take it.

But that isn’t the fans’ fault. 

If the fans can talk a coach into leaving, John Calipari must never read the Rupp Rafters message board. They want him fired after every close loss. Heck, they want him fired after every single-digit win. 

If the fans can talk a coach into leaving, Nick Saban must never read twitter. Three national championships in four seasons wasn’t enough to save him from the fans’ ire after he bumbled away an opportunity to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl last November.

Grumbling is what fans do. It’s part of the pressure-cooker that is big-time NCAA Division I athletics, and it’s one of the big reasons why coaches are paid seven-digit salaries to do what they do. They don’t get to walk into Applebee’s and enjoy a meal like you or I, because someone is gonna light them up for not winning the national championship last season (or, if they won the national championship, for not following up with a top-ranked recruiting class). 

Should the fans have grumbled? We can debate that one until Martin has won his first game in Berkeley, so there’s no point in making this rambling longer by delving into it here. 

But don’t blame the fans for Martin’s departure. He’s a big boy, who played against the very top level of competition in college and who has coached against the very top level of competition. A few signatures on a meaningless petition don’t override the thousands of fans who showed up in Thompson-Boling Arena every night to cheer on the Vols, or the supportive majority who stood by Martin all the way through the season, even amid the losses to Vanderbilt and hapless Texas A&M. A few signatures on a meaningless petition don’t override the fact that every time Martin was announced as head coach prior to a game at TBA, the PA’s booming voice was met with 100% cheers, 0% boos. 

Want to blame someone for Martin’s departure? Blame Dave Hart. Then if we’re gonna have a debate we can debate whether Hart was right or wrong in not showing more support for his head coach. 

But the bottom line is that Martin just took Tennessee to a Sweet 16 appearance. Wake me up when he does the same in Berkeley. Tennessee-to-Cal is a downward move. Coaches don’t do that to prove a point. There’s a term for that. It’s called “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” 

And they certainly don’t do it, as O’Neil claims, so they can “thumb their nose” at a few fans who signed a petition. 

Clashing seasons

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Snow covers dogwood blooms in Oneida this morning. A half-inch of snow accumulated on grassy surfaces, making this (April 15) the latest accumulating snowfall in Oneida since 1950, according to National Weather Service records. (The previous latest snowfall was April 7, in 1971.) 

Fitting, since the coldest temps on record (for this date) are in store tonight. By sunrise tomorrow morning, our temperature is forecast to bottom out at 24 degrees. The record for April 16 is 28 degrees, which we should shatter easily.

Those blooms with snow on them today will be wilted by this time tomorrow, and will soon fall to the ground like scraps of brown paper.

Along with them will be pretty much every other bloom, which is a shame since the northern Cumberland Plateau has just reached the peak of the spring blooming season. According to Scott County’s UT Agriculture Extension Director Jeremy West, 10% of fruit blooms will be lost when temperatures reach 28 for at least two hours, 90% will be lost when temperatures reach 26 for at least two hours, and growers can expect total loss once the temperature drops below 26.

Vols are back on the coaching market

Tennessee has once again found itself in the market for a new coach, after all.

Cuonzo Martin will take the head coaching vacancy at Cal, ESPN reports, leaving the Vols searching for a basketball coach as they come off their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2010.

This is a shocking move because no one saw it coming. Most of us were somewhat surprised that Martin didn’t take the Marquette job, but Martin was never considered to even be on Cal’s radar.

Of course, as I blogged earlier, Martin may not have taken the Marquette job because the Marquette job was never his for the taking. It’s speculation, but the timing of events that surrounded Martin’s talks with Marquette and Marquette’s subsequent hire of Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski certainly were suspicious.

Today’s news that Martin is headed to Cal concretes that suspicion in my mind. Cal is by no measure as good a job as Marquette, and Marquette was a Midwest school — in Martin’s native back yard. You won’t find a coach east of the Rockies who would have taken the Cal job over the Marquette job if he truly had the option.

Some speculated after it was announced that Marquette was hiring Wojo that Martin was more or less between a rock and a hard place. He had flirted with Marquette and indicated a willingness to leave Tennessee, only to (apparently) have the rug pulled out from under him. That left him no bargaining power with UT. In fact, it has been two weeks now since Marquette made its play on Martin, and there had been no announcement of specifics as they related to a raise and contract extension for Martin — something that should usually be considered automatic when a coach is in play for another school and chooses to stay with his current school.

Former Vols beat reporter Wes Boling offered this tweet earlier:

Then, Brendan Quinn — who covered Tennessee last year and continues to cover SEC basketball in Alabama — took it a step further:

It will be interesting to see how it plays out from here.