The Curse of Cuonzo

Dueces: The petition, the tournament run, and the abrupt exit of Cuonzo Martin

Former Tennessee Basketball coach Cuonzo Martin
Former Tennessee Basketball coach Cuonzo Martin

By the time you read this, the topic of Cuonzo Martin’s flash-bang exit to Cal will have been beaten to death.
I know that, because it already is, and it only happened early today.
There has been an extraordinary amount of fan-blaming and coach worship, and on the other side, a lot of “good riddance” and even some discrediting of this year’s Sweet Sixteen run in the tournament, and how it masked an otherwise termination-worthy season. So we’ll skip all that.
And as much as I wanted to write a dark piece about how Cuonzo was tough enough to beat non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, but could not overcome the aggressive “ego cancer” that plagues Tennessee Volunteer fan culture, I’m not going to.
I’m not going to call the ~40K signees of the petition to fire Cuonzo Martin an enormous humiliation to the Volunteer fanscape.
By the time you read this, every major basketball analyst in the country will have waxed on, accurately, about the Tennessee fans and Administration’s mishandling and mistreatment of Cuonzo Martin, a coach who’s results (both on the court and in recruiting) and national image were steadily climbing.
When Derek Dooley was slipping off of the coaching rope, the general rallying cry was “you get paid to win.” But, as the football team continues to limp through a historical slump, with losing records in 4 of the last 5 seasons, a record crowd of 68K just assembled for the spring’s Orange and White game. Meanwhile, the Tennessee basketball team hasn’t had a losing record in nearly a decade, including all three years under Martin, and fans are petitioning to remove coaches. It is almost psychotic. So I’m not going to talk about that either, because it is too chaotic and bizarre.
On April 1st, when Cuonzo announced he wouldn’t be leaving Tennessee for Marquette, I was truly shocked. Selfishly, as a fan, I was relieved. The objective part of me felt like it was better than Vol fans had earned. “Why would anyone stay in a place where almost two-times the capacity of Thompson Boling Arena had, very publicly, said that they want you gone?” So, when news broke today, I felt much better for Cuonzo, and much worse about Volunteer fans and the UTAD, who, together, chased away a very, very good coach. But all that has been covered, so we can skip that, too.
Honestly, all the scrutiny and hyperbole and microscoping of the rise/fall of Cuonzo Martin leave me with a question:
If Vol fans and administrators weren’t interested in a coach who not only cares about his players and represents the university with class, but also wins consistently, then what are we looking for?

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