Cuonzo Martin's abrupt departure takes UT, fans by surprise

(WBIR) Cuonzo Martin is leaving the University of Tennessee for the University California.

Cal announced Martin's hiring Tuesday. He replaces Mike Montgomery, who retired last month after six seasons in Berkeley.

Earlier this month, Martin said he was staying with the Volunteers.

"I am excited about the future and remain honored to be the head basketball coach at Tennessee. Go Vols!" Martin wrote in a statement.

But he has since changed his mind and decided to join the Golden Bears as head coach.

Video:'s Rob Lewis on Cuonzo to Cal

He was introduced there Tuesday afternoon, where he said the job was a tremendous opportunity and very humbling.

He took a moment to thank the Tennessee basketball family. He said he spent three years at Tennessee, gave my life for the program, and made tremendous relationships. He said it was a family at Tennessee, and he "loved 'em all."

He said he appreciated the opportunity he had at Tennessee.

INTERACTIVE: Cuonzo Martin departure timeline

Martin's abrupt departure seemed to catch everyone by surprise, even UT Athletic Director Dave Hart, who said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that he didn't know until this morning.

"I did not expect to be dealing with this today," Hart said.

VIDEO: Climer: Martin's departure leaves Vols in bind

However, Hart had nothing but good things to say about his departing coach. He called Martin an outstanding person and a role model for the student-athletes, and congratulated him and his staff and team on an amazing finish in what Hart said was a very difficult season, alluding to a fan-driven effort to replace Martin with former coach Bruce Pearl, who is now at Auburn.

Hart said Martin informed him of his decision this morning, and Martin was "very emotional." He told Hart that in his heart, he felt the move to Cal was the best move for him and his family.

Hart said he and Martin began discussions about a raise and contract extension as soon as the team returned from the NCAA tournament. UT offered Martin a half-million dollar raise and a two year extension, bringing his salary to $1.8 million. It would have made Martin one of the 30 top paid basketball coaches in the country.

But Hart said he did not think Martin's departure was about money. While declining to speak for Martin, Hart said that it was a very tough year for Martin and his family, with a lot of distractions. It was also tough for the team, who began speaking out about the fan's lack of support of Martin until their tournament run.

Hart spoke with the players on Tuesday. He said it was a difficult conversation, because obviously the players were emotional, and are "feeling a void right now." He said he and his staff also reached out to the Vols' commitments, to reassure them. It is not clear if Martin had a chance to speak to the players, though there are reports that an assistant coach broke the news to them.

MORE: Vols commit follows Cuonzo to California

VIDEO: Chris Low on Cuonzo Martin to Cal

Hart said he will immediately begin a nation-wide search for the next head basketball coach of the University of Tennessee. He said it's an attractive job, and he has no doubt there will be a lot of interest, though the timing will be very difficult. National Signing Day is Wednesday.

Sowhat is Hart looking for?

He said he would like someone with head coaching experience and a track record, but that doesn't mean he won't look at a rising star. What he wants is a winner, someone who is a good fit at UT, who is passionate about the game and recruiting, and can attract a high-quality staff and players. Hart could give no time line for how long the search would take, only saying he "will hire the best person that we can."

Video: Potential Coaching Candidates and Effect on Recruits

Cal's athletic director posted a photo of Martin holding a Cal jersey Tuesday afternoon.

Last month, Martin also discussed a head coaching job with Marquette, but turned them down. The next day, Hart said Martin was staying as head basketball coach for Tennessee, but never announced details on their agreement.

"We are working on modifications to Cuonzo's current contract and will release details of those adjustments when finalized," wrote Hart in a statement.

Martin released a statement the same day saying that Tennessee was where he wanted to be and felt committed to the players.

"Just as our players have `bought in' and made a commitment to doing things the right way in all aspects of their lives, my staff and I feel a strong commitment to them and their continued growth as men," wrote Martin in a statement.

Martin led Tennessee to a 24-13 record this season, 11-7 in the SEC. UT fell to Michigan in the Sweet 16, but put up quite a fight losing by only two points, 73-71. Earlier in the NCAA tournament, Tennessee defeated Iowa in the First Four in Dayton, and then UMass and Mercer in rounds 64 and 32 last week.

After replacing Bruce Pearl, Martin took the Vols to the NIT during his first two seasons in Knoxville. Martin played at Purdue and was a head coach at Missouri State before landing a job at Tennessee.

Several former players and others voiced support for Martin on Twitter.


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