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.