Basketball: Cal hires Vols’ Cuonzo Martin


If Cal was trying to hit a home run with the hiring of a new men’s basketball coach, the Golden Bears appeared to come close enough, announcing Tuesday that Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin would replace Mike Montgomery.

Martin, 42, had been the Volunteers’ coach for the past three years, and led the Vols to a 24-13 record this past season, including a surprise appearance in the Sweet 16, where they were eliminated by Michigan. He was 63-41 overall in his three seasons at Tennessee.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour’s announcement came on the 15th day of the search to replace Montgomery, who retired at age 67 after six seasons at Berkeley.

Martin’s decision to take the Cal job apparently caught Tennessee off-guard, according to a story on SB Nation. He flirted with Marquette right after the season, but when the Warriors decided to go in a different direction, Martin was expected to stay at Tennessee.

But the SB Nation story said he had come under heavy criticism earlier in the 2013-14 season, including an online petition signed by more than 36,000 fans who wanted him replaced with former coach Bruce Pearl.

Martin succeeded Pearl as coach after Pearl was fired for lying to NCAA investigators.

Martin’s players at Tennessee said the fans’ treatment of their coach came full circle. According to USA Today,  senior guard Jordan McRae tweeted: “Can’t treat people any kind of way and expect good in return.​” Senior forward Jeronne Maymon tweeted: “Not even surprised… It was just a matter of time! #RESPECT”

The Volunteers staged a strong run at the end of the season, winning five of their final six conference games to finish 11-7 overall, good for fourth place. They were eliminated in the second round of the SEC tournament by Florida, which was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time.

Seeded No. 11 in the NCAA tournament, the Vols beat Iowa in Dayton, Ohio, then knocked off Massachusetts and Mercer to reach the Sweet 16.

Martin’s first Tennessee team started 3-6 but won nine of its final 12 games to finish 19-15. The 2012-13 Vols started 11-10 before winning nine of 10, including victories over Kentucky and Florida, to finish 20-13. Both of those teams played in the NIT.

Before going to Tennessee, Martin spent three seasons as the head coach at Missouri State, where he was 61-41 overall but just 26-28 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

A native of East St. Louis, Ill., he teammed with LaPhonso Ellis to win three straight state titles at Lincoln High. He then played for Gene Keady at Purdue, where he joined forces with Glenn Robinson to win Big Ten titles in 1994 and ’95. Martin was a first-team all-Big Ten pick as a senior, averaging 18.4 points.

 Martin played for two seasons in the NBA after being a second-round pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1995 draft. He appeared in a total of seven games with the Vancouver (now Memphis) Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks.

Jeff Faraudo

  • Supposedly, he is bringing a 7’1″ recruit with him.

  • BlakeStreetBear

    Yes he is: Kingsley Okoroh.

  • JB Don’t Dance

    Exceeds my expectations

  • Rollonubears

    Kingsley Okoroh. Just committed to Tennessee yesterday. Just committed to the Bears today. Looks like we just solved two problems at once. Go Bears!

  • sunshipballoons

    That MVC record is troubling. But he’s a hard-nosed, defense-oriented coach, so he’s a sensible successor to Monty. He’s also young, so maybe he’ll stick around for awhile. And, any protege of Gene Keady is okay with me. I hope he has a Keady scowl!

  • Eric

    I don’t know much about Martin but I did watch Tennessee in the tournament and was impressed.
    As I posted earlier, rumor mill is that Barbour wanted Decuire but the chancellor voted no. If there is any merit to the rumor, I wonder if Barbour is on her way out.

  • Rollonubears

    I’m liking this Chancellor more and more. I just hope this guy runs a clean program. He’s coming from the SEC, after all.

  • acaldude

    Cal/Barbour hatters gone hat. But as of today, I like it. Ask me again in 4 years.

  • Rollonubears


    A nice view from the Tennessee perspective. Pretty classy program they have there. No sour grapes. Maybe we can get their AD, too.

    Reading between the lines, I think the $ was probably a big factor, even though they say it wasn’t. You offer to pay a guy who just got you to the sweet 16, a top 30 salary, and expect him not to bolt? We’re probably paying top dollar, and “expecting top results.” But bay area pay always looks amazing, until you get here and realize what kind of house that buys. Hopefully he’s a simple man, because there are no Tennessee-sized mansions in the Oakland hills for under 20million.

  • Wehofx

    Blake – re: previous post – and caldude – any relation to discdude? -agree.

    If Cuonzo doesn’t get raab to sign by end of week, I’ll be demanding his termination!!!

    For reals, big test will be to keep diallo and rohrie(sp) on board.

    Pipe dream: he keeps decuire on staff.

  • Juancho

    Love the hire.

  • Steve Fischer

    I’m good with it – for those who like him this article from 2012 will
    make you happy


    Here’s another -more of an objective look –

  • Steve Fischer

    Kingsley Okoroh had offers from UTEP, Arizona State and both Washington Schools among others. He was ranked 30th among centers.

  • BlakeStreetBear

    Woohoo! I can’t see how any current (or signed) players would not want to play for this guy. I sure as heck would! Go Bears!

  • sunshipballoons

    I think it’s safe to say he’s bringing the two Tenn. assistants who followed him there from Missouri State. The third coach seems like a good bet, too.

  • sunshipballoons

    Yeah, you’ve gotta think the fan petition to have him fired mid-season played a big role too.

  • sunshipballoons

    Worth noting: Maritn was the lead recruiter at Purdue for Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, Carl Landry and E’Twaun Moore.

  • PBinAubWA

    It was the petition, had nothing to do with $. I remember Cuonzo from college. He’s a tough-minded no nonsense kind of guy…not much different from Mike. I like the hire.

  • sunshipballoons

    Well, I’m sure the money didn’t hurt… Agreed about Cuonzo, though. He was a defensive stopper. Anybody who played and coached for Keady is okay in my book.

  • eastcoastbear

    Like the choice out here on the EastCoast.
    I hope we make a similar bold move next year in hiring a new football coach

  • Rollonubears

    Finally going to be “cool” to go to Cal again. I’m really excited for next year. Football can’t go anywhere but up, and basketball could reach highs not seen for 20 years.

  • Juancho

    Haha I knew somebody had to say it.

    The interesting thing is what Eric points out below. If the scuttle butt is true – that she was not allowed to make the hire (her choice was Decuire) – then it shows the new Chancellor has got some stones and probably isn’t too fond of the Sonny Money Man.

  • Juancho

    It can’t all be good news I guess. Diallo has decommitted.

  • Steve Fischer

    Hopefully now we can all come together as Cal Fans and stop the internecine warfare, prevalent during the final years of the recent coach. Martin deserves our full support whether or not he was your first choice. Many believe Tenn was victim of a blatantly bad and costly call vs Michigan and should have gone even further. Of course I was one of the more divisive posters, so I will take my own advice and behave..at least until football season. I do wish Monty the best in retirement .

  • Peter C.

    I think a bold move was what got us in trouble in the first place. “Hey, check out this fancy new offense.”

  • Rollonubears

    I think Diallo is just bummed. He said he’s opening it up again. Getting him back should be a top priority. We can use all the 6’10″+ help we can get.

  • Wehofx

    Re: Diallo – CovinaRed, time to earn your keep. Get him to recommit.

    I think sb is – and serves to be – on the HOT seat.

    However, IMO you have to give her props for the disinformation campaign she/ath dept ran on us/media. We got trolled.

    I mean uci, nd, musselman, Richmond, maybe decuire then…cuonzo!!!

    Talk about keeping a secret? even the Tenn AD had no idea until today. In today’s 24/7 media environment that is a huge accomplishm

  • eastcoastbear

    The 7 footer on the way has yet to get into Cal and is rated just 2 stars by ESPN, which is less than the three stars of our other 7 footer Rooks…So we are taking project here before anyone gets too excited…Diallo is also a work in progress at three stars..we are not talking stanley johnson….none of these players is taking us to the Sweet 16…Lets hope our new coach can bring us the Gordons and Rabbs going forward which is needed to compete at the top levels of the Pac 12…

  • Wehofx


    Decuire will be tough to retain but I sure hope Theo gets a spot.

    Go Bears!

  • Juancho

    What a great first impression. Inspires confidence. His communication style will resonate with top recruits and their families.


  • eastcoastbear

    Martin said his first job will be to hire a staff and toward that end he will talk to Montgomery assistants Travis DeCuire, Gregg Gottlieb and John Montgomery. DeCuire was a finalist for the job; he might have been athletic director Sandy Barbour’s choice but she was apparently out-voted by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Vice Chancellor John Wilton. Interesting take….

  • GoBears49

    Seems like a perfect pick on so many levels. I was resigned to Cal basketball going downhill but now maybe it will go up. Maybe we may not yearn for the “good old Monty days” after all. Loved the comment about the need to get local recruits and the seeming blessing of Tennessee players. Martin improved his team’s record every year at Missouri State and Tennessee (see link below).

    I think we haven’t heard the last word on this from the Tennessee athletic department. I think I read Martin was under contract with Tennessee. If so, I think the normal procedure is to ask the existing school for permission to talk to their coach, but I could be wrong on that. Anyway, this looks like a great hire for Cal. Could save Sandy’s job, which some people would say is a mixed end result.


  • GoBears49

    Don’t forget about Theo Robertson, someone who could be a big help in recruiting and in other aspects of Cal’s basketball affairs. I think he will be a head coach of a big school someday.

  • sunshipballoons

    Eh, he doesn’t seem like a great prospect. Minor loss (if they even lose him).

  • Peter C.

    Interesting, but based on what intelligence? As much as I have my issues with some of Sandy’s decisions, I’d prefer her making these choices over a couple of humanities scholars who know next to nothing about sports. In any case, if Dirks and Wilton overruled her, we’ll find out more about those relationships when her contract’s up. In the interim, cheers to Sandy for a great hire at least on paper, however it pans out.

  • Peter C.

    Also, doesn’t logic suggest it would probably be the other way around? A DeCuire hire would be cheaper, and be seen as settling by a large population of donors and season ticket buyers, including myself. Not exactly a sexy hire for someone on the hot seat trying to appease the fan base. The Martin signing is splashier and will cost the University more, and is probably less attractive a solution to an heavily bureaucratic administration that seems to be trimming fat wherever possible, and has been historically more adverse to paying large salaries to coaches than most programs of its size.

  • Rollonubears

    Hiring DeCuire would have been a Tedford-type move…playing the favorites rather than the best man available. I hope he gets a shot somewhere, and proves himself, and then we hire him down the road if he does. Way too big of a program to take a gamble on someone so unproven, in my opinion. I hope for his sake, he proves me wrong, but I can’t see how he’d do any better than our new hire, other than initial recruiting. Over the next 5 years, I’d take Cuonzo in a heartbeat.