BERKELEY (CBS/AP) – California hired Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin as its coach Tuesday, charging him with taking over another program after a successful run by his predecessor.
Martin replaces Mike Montgomery, who retired last month after six seasons in Berkeley. Martin went 63-41 in three seasons at Tennessee, including a 24-13 mark and an appearance in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament this season. He also was previously the coach at Missouri State.
Martin was scheduled to be introduced at Cal during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
He takes over for one of the most successful college coaches in the history of the San Francisco Bay Area. Montgomery finished his career with a 677-317 record, having also spent 18 years at Stanford and eight at Montana. Montgomery also had two disappointing seasons as head coach of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors between his stints at Stanford and Cal.
Replacing a revered coach is nothing new for Martin.
Martin, 42, took over a Tennessee program under NCAA investigation in 2011 and has averaged 21 wins per year. But, at times, he struggled to escape the shadow of former coach Bruce Pearl, who led the Volunteers to NCAA tournament appearances in each of his six years on the job.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said Martin’s departure came as a surprise.
“I did not know Cuonzo was involved in the California job until this morning,” Hart said. “We did have a conversation. He was very emotional. The bottom line is he said in his heart he believed this was best for (him) and his family.”
He said it was a tough year for Martin, calling him “an outstanding person” and a “terrific role model.” He said he wishes Martin “nothing but success” at Cal.
When Tennessee was struggling earlier this season, disgruntled fans started an online petition to bring back Pearl, who has since been hired by Auburn. Martin began to silence his critics when Tennessee revived its season by winning eight of nine games before falling 73-71 to Michigan in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
Martin also spoke with Marquette about its coaching vacancy a few weeks ago, but he pulled his name from consideration. Hart said soon afterward that the university was reworking Martin’s contract.
Martin also released a statement through the university on April 1 reaffirming his position at Tennessee.
“Tennessee is where I want to be,” the coach said. “That has never changed.”
Hart said he did not believe Martin left because of money. Martin was making $1.35 million per year, which ranked him in the bottom half of Southeastern Conference coaches, but Hart said Tennessee offered him a two-year extension worth $1.8 million per year.
Martin previously served as coach at Missouri State, going 61-41 in three seasons, including win totals of 24 and 26 in his final two seasons. In 2010-11, Martin guided Missouri State to the regular-season Missouri Valley championship and was named the conference’s Coach of the Year.
As a player, Martin earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 1995 at Purdue when he averaged 18.4 points per game and made 91 3-pointers. After playing two seasons in the NBA, he served on the staff at his alma mater from 2000-08 — first as an assistant coach and in his final year as associate head coach.
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