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Martin’s Departure Has Tennessee Chasing Its Tail Again

dog-chasing-tailHere they go again.

In Knoxville today, the private planes are being warmed up for yet another coaching search (assuming the boosters allow Tennessee’s AD to use them).  Cuonzo Martin’s surprise decision to go to California with an aching in his heart creates the umpteenth coaching vacancy at UT in the past decade.  Here’s the school’s scorecard in case you haven’t been able to keep track of all the major comings and goings in the Volunteers’ men’s athletic department:

 

* Basketball coach Buzz Peterson — fired March 2005

* Baseball coach Rod Delmonico — fired June 2007

* Football coach Phillip Fulmer — fired November 2008

* Football coach Lane Kiffin — left January 2010

* Basketball coach Bruce Pearl — fired over NCAA violations March 2011

* Baseball coach Todd Raleigh — fired May 2011

* Athletic Director Mike Hamilton — resigned June 2011

* Football coach Derek Dooley — fired November 2012

 

Now I don’t know about you, but that makes Tennessee’s athletic department look rather dysfunctional to most unaffiliated observers.  For example, here’s some of the national reaction that average fans — and coaches — are seeing across the country today:

 

Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com:  ”Can you imagine?  You sign two five-star prospects in a span of three recruiting classes, win more games each year than the year before, mold a roster into a team that will soon make the Sweet 16, and, still, literally tens of thousands of your own fans have taken time out of their day to sign a petition requesting that you be replaced by the man you replaced three years earlier.”

Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports:  ”There is something in the water, or the soil — or, most likely, the people — at the University of Tennessee that has turned the athletic department into a transient, turmoil-ridden place.  Basketball coach Cuonzo Martin’s departure Tuesday is just the latest huh? moment for a school that has been buffeted by them in recent years.”

Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com:  ”In a lot of places (Martin’s results) would merit a raise, a contract extension and a heap of praise.  At Tennessee, it got Martin a heap of nothing.  Impatient fans and lukewarm administrators never really gave Martin a chance — Indiana fans, with a bit more basketball dog in the fight, gave Tom Cream a longer leash.  And now the Vols got what they stopped wanting and exactly what they deserved.”

 

The first response to the national media from many Vol fans will be one big “who cares?” and a string of “yeah, buts.”  But no school’s boosters and fans really want the sporting world to view their athletic department as some sort of sad joke.  And unfortunately for the faithful on Rocky Top that is exactly how Tennessee is being viewed today.

Martin was never embraced in Knoxville for one reason — he wasn’t Pearl.  As soon as the NCAA came down on Pearl he became to some UT fans their own “Lost Cause” hero, a combination of generals Albert Sydney Johnston and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  ”Why we’d have never succumbed to Yankee tyranny had our beloved leader in gray not been taken from us so grievously!”

Martin got better each year in three at Missouri State.  He got better each year in three at Tennessee, too.  He wound up three points shy of the Elite Eight last month.  But he still wasn’t Pearl on or off the court.  So the anti-Martin crowd simply changed their battle cry as the Vols advanced in the tournament — “Yes, but we underachieved in the regular season.”  So when a team lives up to preseason expectations at tourney time the regular season becomes the problem?  Kentucky fans are bonkers about hoops, but I don’t see anyone running John Calipari away for following the very same path Martin went down last season — disappointing regular season, expectations basically met in the postseason.

The greatest irony is that Martin was the only guy to do any real winning on Rocky Top in years.  Pearl won an SEC basketball title in 2008.  That is the only championship for Tennessee in a major men’s sport in 15 years.  Vol baseball last took home the SEC trophy in 1995.  Vol football hasn’t been crowned league champ since 1998.

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Like Sands Through The Hourglass, Tennessee/Martin Soap Opera Goes On And On

cuonzo-question mark copyOn Sunday it appeared as though Cuonzo Martin would be leaving Tennessee for Marquette.  On Monday it appeared that the only delay was a clause in Martin’s contract that would see his buyout for leaving drop by $1.3 million at midnight this morning.  Right after midnight this morning… that all went out the window.

Martin is staying at Tennessee.  For now.  Might he still wind somewhere else?  Wake Forest is reportedly closing in on Tulsa’s Danny Manning, but there is reportedly some interest in Martin as well.  The Boston College job remains open (despite an earlier version of this piece tying Jay Wright to BC… as we forgot it was April F’n Fools Day).

Either way, how the Martin situation went from sure departure to sorta/kinda staying is the topic of the day in hoops circles.  We believe there are a few possibilities:

 

1.  Marquette decided to go in another direction.  That one’s doubtful because everyone — and we’re talking everyone — said the MU job was Martin’s to take.  From ESPN to sources on the ground inside the University of Tennessee athletic department, a Martin/Marquette marriage was in the cards.  So yes, this has all the hallmarks of a face-saving move by the coach, but we’re told that’s most definitely not the deal.

2.  Tennessee ponied up a nice raise and extension.  It doesn’t sound like that’s the case, either.  Martin and athletic director Dave Hart met twice on Monday.  It has been reported/rumored that UT didn’t offer Martin much of anything to stay.  A very vocal chunk of the Vol fanbase wants Martin and his 19+ wins per year gone.  If he returns to Knoxville we’ll someday know what he received, if anything, for doing so, but for now it doesn’t appear that Hart wooed him back with cash.

3.  Martin got cold feet after examining Marquette and talking to others.  This one seems a bit more likely.  Marquette has a new president.  They have an interim AD.  There’s turmoil and flux in MU’s administration.  And Martin has been through enough of that at Tennessee.  He took the Knoxville gig not knowing if the school would be crushed with NCAA sanctions.  Then the man who hired him was fired and he wound up working for Hart who allowed him to twist in the wind all season.  It’s typical in these situations for a potential coach to call a school’s ex-coach for some reconnaissance.  Buzz Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech.  That’s telling.  So it’s very much possible that Martin might’ve been scared away from the Marquette gig by Williams himself.  Don’t sleep on this possibility.

4.  Martin wanted to stick around for the kids he recruited.  Yes, by all accounts Martin is a good guy, a stand-up guy.  But coaches move.  It’s part of the business.  Martin left players and recruits at Missouri State when he took the Tennessee job.  While we have no doubt he loves his players and vice versa, we think it’s doubtful that Martin would stay in what’s becoming a pretty nasty situation just out of loyalty to his players.

 

Whatever the reason for Martin’s decision to stay, Tennessee once again finds itself in the middle of a soap opera.  The Volunteer fanbase has been dealing with one issue after another since the end of the Phillip Fulmer era.  Losing seasons.  Coaching turnover.  NCAA issues.

All that together has helped to split the fanbase into factions and those factions are only going to get louder next season if Martin is still in Knoxville.  The pro-Martin crowd will defend the coach saying he deserves better treatment than he’s received.  The anti-Martin crowd will scream, “I told you so” with every missed free throw.

Since launching this site in 2008, Tennessee has given us more chaos to cover than any other school in the SEC.  Martin is UT’s sixth football or basketball coach in that short span alone.  So it’s no wonder we look at this situation and say, “Only at Tennessee.”  Where else would there be so much debate over a coach whose win total has increased every year and who just took his team to within two points of the Elite Eight?

Like sands through the hourglass…

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Martin’s Last Stand At Tennessee? Vol Coach Has Plenty Of Reasons To Bolt

cuonzo-martin-hand-up-presserExcuse Cuonzo Martin if he’s not feeling all warm and fuzzy about his current job at Tennessee these days.  Sure, he’s got the Vols in the Sweet 16 against Michigan tonight.  Yes, he’s just one step away from reaching the Elite Eight and equaling the best work by his predecessor, a ghost that’s haunted him from his first day in Knoxville.  But this year has been far from easy for the Vols’ stoic third-year coach.

While his team was picked for third place in the SEC and not ranked in most preseason top 25 lists, many Volunteer fans assigned much greater expectations.  So when Martin’s team struggled with inconsistency for the first two-thirds of the season, things turned ugly.  More than 36,000 people signed an online petition to bring back then-on-the-market Bruce Pearl, the man who had left UT’s program under an NCAA cloud.  It was that very NCAA cloud that chased away more proven candidates and left Martin as the first man to say yes to the Volunteers’ offer.

The petition might not have been the worst of things.

According to VolQuest.com — the Rivals.com site covering Tennessee (paywall) — we learn that “multiple donors indicated to the athletic department that they no long wished to allow their private planes to be used for basketball recruiting purposes.”  That was in February, the site reports.  And it’s not surprising.

This isn’t a new move at Tennessee (or elsewhere, for the matter).  The Vols’ budget jumped during the Derek Dooley tenure for the same reason — the school had to start buying airline tickets for coaches on the recruiting trail rather than just using donated booster planes.

Martin didn’t get very much support from his boss through the season’s struggles, either.  Dave Hart — who inherited Martin — made it clear early on that he wanted to see “tournament success.”  MrSEC.com learned through an NCAA/NIT source last week that if the Volunteers had failed to reach the NCAA Tournament they would not have accepted a bid to play in the NIT.  Coupled with Hart’s silence, it’s not hard to figure out that Martin was likely standing right on the razor’s edge on Selection Sunday, desperately needing a bid.

But now his team is playing its best basketball of the season.  That’s not unusual.  Martin’s first team won eight of its last nine regular-season games.  Ditto his second squad.  And this year’s team is in the middle of an 8-1 nine-game stretch as well.  His first team — picked near the bottom of the SEC — managed to finish second in the league.  Last year’s club managed to work its way onto the NCAA bubble despite playing all season without preseason All-SEC first-teamer Jeronne Maymon.

In five years as a coach at Tennessee and Missouri State, Martin has won 19 or more games five times.  That’s hardly the work of a “bad” or “terrible” coach as so many folks have written on messageboards and Twitter over the first four months of the season.

Ah, but Martin lacks the personality of Pearl.  Nevermind that everyone else also lacks the personality of Pearl.  Vol fans wanted to see more fire from their coach.  In addition, they also wanted to see an up-tempo squad, like the ones Pearl put on the floor during his first three seasons in Knoxville.

Ironically, Martin’s team may still be alive because it does not play with such a style.  According to Ken Pomeroy’s stat-geek-heaven site KenPom.com, only three of the teams reaching the Sweet 16 this year ranked in the top 100 of his tempo category (possessions per 40 minutes).  Five squads — including Tennessee and SEC rival Florida — ranked outside the top 300.  Fast-pace teams rarely win in national championships (exceptions over 20 years: Rick Pitino’s Louisville, Gary Williams’ Maryland, Rick Pitino’s Kentucky, Nolan Richardon’s Arkansas).

So one of the things most often cited as a negative by the anti-Cuonzo/”Bring Back Bruce” crowd is likely a very big reason Martin’s team is having success now.

Martin has worked himself off the firing line, obviously, and now he’s in line for an extension and a raise.  Many Vol fans — those who supported Martin all along and those who’ve been won over by UT’s hot finish — are now hoping that the petition used against Martin and his recruiting and his program won’t come back to bite the school in the rear.  One pro-Tennessee website even penned an open letter to Martin this week begging for forgiveness. 

Why the sudden fear?  Because Martin might jilt UT if he gets a chance.  Could you blame him?  Now, his name has not been connected to any of the current openings at Wake Forest, Boston College, or Marquette (to name a few).  That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some unreported back-channel communication between those schools and Martin’s representatives.

If Tennessee loses tonight and sees what has to be deemed a successful season come to close, will it be Martin’s last game with the Volunteers?  Next year figures to be a rebuilding year if the squad loses junior Jarnell Stokes to the NBA or Europe.  Many of the same fans who’ve gone from “hate him” to “love him” over the last three weeks will more than likely slide right back into the “hate him” camp after two or three losses next season.  Martin must know that.  And while he’s not talked about the petition or the lack of booster planes, he’s had to deal with both.  (Think that petition helped his recruiting efforts?)

For now, win or lose tonight, it looks as though Tennessee will be set to cough over some more cash to its coach in order to bring him back.  Whether or not Martin accepts UT’s cash and a contract extension is still very much in question.  Things have changed from February to now.  The Volunteers are no longer in control of the situation.  The ball is now clearly in Martin’s court.  For Tennessee fans hoping to hang onto him, they’d better be hoping he’s a forgiving man.

Update: Marquette Targets Cuonzo Martin

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Pearl Deserves A Second Chance… With Conditions

bruce-pearl3Hey.  Ya heard that Bruce Pearl’s show-cause penalty ends in August?

Of course you have.  A possible Pearl return to college coaching has been tackled by writers for CBS, Fox and USA Today in the past 10 days alone.  Nowhere is this possibility a hotter topic than in Knoxville, Tennessee where Pearl still lives and his replacement still struggles to win over fans.  A disappointing Year Three for Cuonzo Martin might leave his Vols out of the NCAA Tournament and — if things break badly — the coach out of a job.

The majority of Volunteer fans want Pearl back, regardless of Martin’s finish this season.  A worst case scenario for the school might be allowing its ex-coach to move on to another school as it retains Martin or hires some other replacement.  Boston College is Pearl’s alma mater and the Eagles’ job in the ACC will probably be open at year’s end.  If Pearl returned to Chesnut Hill it would be far better for UT than if an SEC school did the hiring.  It’s one thing for Pearl to succeed in the Northeast (and he’s likely to succeed wherever he goes).  It’s another for him to succeed in Tennessee’s back yard.

But that’s all if a school offers Pearl a job.  And that’s not as much of a guaranteed cinch as most seem to think.  (More on that in a second.)

Our feelings on Pearl returning to the sidelines somewhere?  Hey, everybody deserves a second chance.  By August he’ll have done his time in the NCAA hoosegow.  If a school has no worries about further incidents, who’s to block his return?  Any school making such a move, however, should consider the fact that the coach has twice found himself at the center of controversy — as an Iowa assistant who secretly tape-recorded a recruit in order to turn in another school and as the man who needlessly messed up his own good thing at Tennessee.

Schools considering Pearl are also likely to take into account what happened to Indiana when Kelvin Sampson proved he couldn’t stop over-dialing recruits.  Sampson had gotten Oklahoma’s program into trouble.  The NCAA put restrictions on Sampson at OU but Indiana hired him anyway.  When he was found guilty at Indiana of violating those limitations that had already been put on him, he was handed a five-year show-cause penalty (that ended last November).  The Hoosier program struggled to rebuild in the aftermath of the NCAA investigation.  You can be certain any school hiring Pearl will be inviting NCAA sleuths onto its campus just as Indiana did when it hired Sampson.  So Pearl’s re-entry into basketball coaching is not a sure thing.

Those are simple facts.  So is this: Most ex-cons don’t land jobs working bank security fresh out of the big house.  Translation: Pearl probably shouldn’t be allowed to pick up right where he left off.  That’s not to say he should be branded or forced to wear a scarlet letter, but any school bringing him on board should protect itself as best as possible against any future slip-ups.  There should be stipulations in any contract put before Pearl.

Conditions like these…

 

1.  His salary should start on the low side (especially if we’re talking about Tennessee, where he was already given a $1 million parting gift even as he left the school in the NCAA’s sites).  Let’s say $500,000 per year.  Total.  The school could then build in some major escalators tied to NCAA compliance, player grades, player behavior and, of course, wins.  Those add-ons might make such a deal more palatable for Pearl.  But the fact remains, if he returns to coaching immediately off of his show-cause penalty he’ll be the first hoops coach to do so.  Any school dealing with Pearl will hold all the cards during contract negotiations.  And if Pearl really wants to return to coaching and to do things the right way, he should have no problem taking a little less cash up front — a mere $500,000 — and meeting some performance goals to hike his salary.

2.  The school in question should use a bit of the savings from Pearl’s salary offer and hire an extra compliance officer or two.  Pearl will need to earn his employer’s trust (whoever that employer might be).  Until he proves he’s ready to live up to all the nice things he’s been saying over the last three years, a school should protect itself by putting its own gumshoes on his case.  Bumps, butt-dials, other bungles… even the slightest accidental misstep by the coach or his staff would need to be immediately reported to the NCAA.  Pat Haden tripled the size of Southern Cal’s compliance staff when he took over as the Trojans’ AD.  There’s no need to go to that length, but a couple of extra compliance folks to work with Pearl would be a smart move.

3.  Finally, Pearl’s contract should state that any misinformation provided to his campus bosses and/or NCAA officials would result in his immediate dismissal with zero buyout for the coach.  Pearl has told group after group that he’s learned a hard lesson about honesty.  (Who of us ever really learns to be completely honest all of the time?)  A new employer would need for Pearl to make good on his word to, well, make good on his word.  The message in a Pearl contract should be simple and clear: “If you lie, you’re gone.”

 

If Pearl wants back into coaching, a lower starting salary, some extra compliance officers and a clause saying he won’t lie to his bosses or the NCAA should not be dealbreakers.  Especially since any school hiring him will be taking an NCAA risk to do so.

Pearl has made mistakes.  He shouldn’t be banished from the hoops world for them.  But he’ll also need to gain the trust of whoever out there is willing to hire him.  That goes for non-SEC schools and SEC schools alike.  And it’s especially true at Tennessee where Pearl burned an administration that initially tried to stand by him even after he’d admitted to lying to the NCAA and even after he’d called a player’s parent in order to coax him into a cover-up.

At MrSEC.com, we’re all for second chances.  If Martin gets KO’d at Tennessee, we’re all for Pearl getting a second chance at UT.  But he’d have to earn it.

 

 

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Pressure On Tennessee’s Martin More About Pearl Than Martin

bruce-and-cuonzoYesterday in Nashville, Bruce Pearl dressed himself in orange and told a radio station’s fan festival: “I’m still a former coach of the University of Tennessee.  That’s who I am, and I’m proud of that.”

Meanwhile, current Vol basketball coach Cuonzo Martin is watching what’s left of his own fan support disappear.  Many Volunteer fans wish he were the “former coach” and that Pearl would be reinstated in Knoxville.

Pearl told fans Sunday that they should support Martin.  He declined to comment on the possibility of returning to UT.  But if he really wanted to help Martin — or if he thought there wasn’t at least a chance of his returning — he’d have stated flatly, “That’s not going to happen.”  Instead, folks close to the coach say he is naturally monitoring the situation at Tennessee.

A majority of UT fans have already made it clear via social media, talk radio, messageboards and online petitions that their old coach back (even if the NCAA puts a couple of watchdogs on this tail).

At the moment, it’s extremely unlikely that many of the same University of Tennessee administrators and top boosters who let Pearl go — in the hopes of dodging NCAA sanctions — will backtrack and invite him to return.  Yet the grassroots movement is gathering steam.  Fans make statements with ticket sales and the number of empty seats for UT hoops games has been growing.

In many fans’ eyes, Martin is nothing more than an obstacle blocking Pearl’s return.

Tennessee was expected to finish third in the SEC this season (that’s still technically possible) and reach the NCAA Tournament (that’s not likely).  It’s been a disappointing year on Rocky Top and Martin can’t escape that fact.  But a quick look at a similar situation suggests Martin’s real problem is who he followed, not his record.

Martin took the Tennessee job in 2011 with an NCAA cloud still hanging over Thompson-Boling Arena.  Bigger fish weren’t interested in the job so the Missouri State coach jumped at the opportunity when it was offered.  Since then he’s gone 19-15 (finishing second in the SEC), 20-13, and now 15-11.  Overall at Tennessee his record is 54-39 which is a winning clip of .580.  Over the last three seasons, only John Calipari and Billy Donovan have posted better league marks.  But Martin has never reached an NCAA tourney and he looks bubble-strapped again.

Martin sits on a very hot seat.

But Prior to Pearl, Tennessee’s coach from 2001 through 2005 was Buzz Peterson.  His first three years at Tennessee looked like this: 15-16, 17-12, and 15-14.  He even had a losing SEC record of 23-25.  But there was little debate about a fourth year; Peterson got one.  He then went 14-17 in that fourth season and still there were many who wanted to see the personable coach get a fifth year to prove himself.

Martin’s three-year record: 54-39, .580.  Peterson’s first three years: 47-42, .528.  Peterson got a fourth year.  Most betting men would put money on Martin getting the boot.

Now, it can be said that Pearl raised the bar and that UT fans are no longer willing to accept anything less than NCAA Tournament berths.  Fine.  But the bottom line is Martin’s troubles have more to do with Pearl’s record (and his availability come August) than they do his own.  Peterson did less than Martin but he felt less heat at the same stage of his UT tenure.

As we noted on Friday, Pearl’s reputation around East Tennessee has grown with each game he hasn’t coached.  Martin can’t live up to the comparison.  If Martin is let go and Pearl isn’t re-hired, it’s doubtful anyone else could live up to Pearl’s legend, either.  (Not to mention this fact: What coach would want to sign on with Tennessee when thousands of Vol fans are signing a petition to bring in some other guy?)  This writer wonders whether or not even Pearl could live up to the hype that currently surrounds him if he were to be re-hired.

Martin sure can’t.

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SEC A 3-Bid League At Best After This Weekend

gfx-by-the-numbersAs far as the NCAA Tournament bubble goes, this past weekend was one big ol’ needle for the SEC.  The league’s two top candidates to join locks Florida and Kentucky in the big dance both fell and fell hard on the road.

From an RPI perspective, Missouri’s loss at Alabama (RPI 94) was its worst defeat of the season.  The Tigers’ own RPI dropped to 43rd.  Meanwhile, Tennessee continued its yo-yo act losing at Texas A&M (RPI 133).  Making matters worse — A&M upset the Vols in Knoxville earlier in the season to pull the season sweep.

It’s unlikely, but this could be the year that the 14-team SEC bottoms out with just two NCAA invites.  Yes, it’s that bad.

Below we’ve run the numbers for the nine SEC squads that could still wind up with at least an 11-7 record inside the league.  Now, we don’t believe anyone outside of Florida and Kentucky — who are already there — will actually get to 11 league wins, but for the sake of argument and comparison, that’s who we’ve included in this exercise.

Using much of the same information the selection committee will use, see how many of these SEC dossiers look tourney-worthy to you…

 

  School   UF   UK   MU   UT   ARK   LSU   UM   VU   UGA
  Overall Rec.   25-2   21-6   19-8   15-11   18-9   16-10   16-11   15-11   15-11
  SEC Rec.   14-0   11-3   7-7   7-7   7-7   7-7   7-7   7-7   9-5
  RPI   3   14   43   57   66   67   78   83   85
  SOS   19   12   60   15   75   64   73   71   74
  Avg RPI W   117   115   137   145   173   155   175   166   164
  Avg RPI L   18   36   46   54   54   72   64   70   80
  Non-Con Rec.   11-2   10-3   12-1   8-4   11-2   9-3   9-4   8-4   6-6
  Non-Con RPI Avg.   117   101   152   138   182   162   162   160   167
  Road Rec.   8-2   5-3   3-5   2-7   2-5   2-7   4-6   3-6   3-6
  Neutral Rec.   2-0   1-2   3-1   2-1   1-2   2-1   2-0   2-1   0-3
  Vs RPI 1-50   5-2   3-4   1-2   1-5   2-5   3-3   1-5   1-4   1-5
  Vs RPI 100+   11-0   8-0   10-0   8-2   11-1   11-2   12-1   11-2   10-4
  Remain. Gms RPI 1-50   1   1   0   1   1   1   0   1   1
  Best W   1   26   12   15   14   14   43   43   43
  Worst L   30   67   94   113   113   167   207   171   176

 

Yeesh.

Missouri is better than Tennessee in just about every category so the Tigers currently have the inside track on a third SEC bid.  But an RPI of 43 — matched with an #60 strength of schedule — is no guarantee of a spot on the dance floor.  Plus, UT and MU will square off in Knoxville in both squads’ regular-season finale.  If the Vols win that one it might not push Cuonzo Martin’s team into the tourney, but it could nudge Frank Haith’s team out.

We’ve pointed to Georgia several times this season as being a bad news team for the SEC.  The Dawgs still are.  Mark Fox’s team went 6-6 in their non-conference portion of the season.  That against an non-conference slate with an average RPI of just 167.  Yet the Bulldogs have gone 9-5 inside the league and have won five of their last six games.

For the record, the SEC’s current RPI rank as a league #7.

Florida and Kentucky are locks.  Missouri is ahead of everyone else.  And the SEC is a three-bid league at best as we it.

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A Bad Homecourt Loss Will Rev Up The Pearl Talk At Tennessee

bruce-and-cuonzoCuonzo Martin is in trouble.  His Volunteers were expected by most to finish in or near the top 25, in the top four in the SEC, and very much in the NCAA Tournament.  At 6-4, with three losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 and a woeful SEC schedule still yet to play, it’s doubtful that even a great run by the Volunteers would earn Martin his first trip to the Big Dance.

And if the Vols don’t go dancing will Tennessee give Martin a fourth season at the helm?  Does the school even have the cash to buy him out if president Jimmy Cheek and AD Dave Hart wish to?  The school has paid off Phillip Fulmer, Derek Dooley and AD Mike Hamilton since 2008.  Tennessee also gave Bruce Pearl some walking money when he was fired… and he was fired for cause.

If nothing else, the UT athletic department has displayed the post-conversion generosity of Ebenezer Scrooge in recent years.

Martin’s contract was not extended this past year.  After this season he will have just two years remaining on a $1.3 million deal.  Assuming UT does have a little bit of cash to spend and Martin does not reach the tourney — it’s early, but the SEC looks really bad — then the question becomes: Will Tennessee try to hire Pearl back?

The powers-that-be at UT let Pearl go only after it became evident the NCAA would firebomb their program if they attempted to keep him (which the school initially tried to do).  Once fired, Pearl was handed a three-year show-cause penalty for lying to NCAA investigators about a barbecue that welcomed some underage recruits in to his home.  Lying to the NCAA has been a major no-no for years.  Ask Jim Tressel who was handed a five-year show-cause.  (Missouri’s Frank Haith was lucky to avoid a show-cause penalty this offseason, but as we wrote at the time, the Miami investigation was so flawed we believe the NCAA went easy on those involved in order to just close the book on the whole affair.)

In addition to the lying and the barbecue, the NCAA viewed Pearl’s phone call to the father of Aaron Craft — one of the barbecue attendees — as an attempted cover-up.

While there are still some issues between Pearl and the NCAA and Pearl and UT officials, there are no such hard feelings between Pearl and the majority of the Vol fanbase.  The coach was the first man to take Tennessee to an Elite Eight.  He had success against Florida, Kentucky and Memphis.  He filled Thompson-Boling Arena.  And when the NCAA came after him he achieved full-on Robin Hood status in East Tennessee.

So now the same Tennessee officials who fired Pearl in the program’s best interest three years ago — the school got a slap on the wrist while Pearl and his coaches were handed show-cause penalties — could be facing a tough decision come March.

If Martin flames out, UT could re-hire Pearl.  His penalty ends in August.  Assistants would have to run the shop for a few months, but that’s a small price to pay for a proven winner.  Now, a lot of people would have to put on fake smiles at the press conference, but business is business and Pearl was good for business.  Most of the Vol fanbase would surely rejoice if he were to return.  The NCAA might have a different reaction.  Tennessee would be hiring a guy who lied to its investigators.  Think the NCAA wouldn’t have folks snooping around Knoxville on a regular basis?

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Tennessee AD Hart “Very Pleased With Where The Program Is Headed”

gfx - they said itThe record was the same.  Tennessee finished 5-7 in Butch Jones’ first year, same as Derek Dooley’s record in his final season in Knoxville.  But that’s just about where the comparisons end between the Vols’ new coach and their old one.

Just ask athletic director, Dave Hart, the man who made the switch from one to the other:

 

“I think Butch Jones has verified everything that we thought he would bring to the team.  He has galvanized all of our constituents.  He’s a tireless worker with unlimited energy, it seems.  I’m very pleased with where the program is headed…

We very much have the same goals, the same priorities.  That won’t be a snap-your-fingers and it’s done (fix).  But eventually there’s no question we’ll get to our destination…

I see (the players’) understanding of what it’s going to take to get the program back where we all want it.  And we will get it back to where we all want it.”

 

That will be easier said than done.  Phillip Fulmer went a decade without an SEC crown and suffered through two losing seasons in his last four as the talent level at UT dipped.  Lane Kiffin then tried to put out the fire with gasoline, annihilating the Volunteer roster by leaving after only one season.  A panicked hire of Dooley — a coach with a losing record at Louisiana Tech — and Jones took over a program lacking depth, talent and speed on its roster.  He also inherited a fanbase that ran out of patience long before his arrival.

But Tennessee got a “signature” win with the SEC’s biggest upset of the year over South Carolina.  The team’s academics improved as the school narrowly avoided APR-related sanctions.  Jones has won over ex-Vol lettermen who were practically banned from campus under Kiffin and Dooley.  And most importantly, he’s done a good enough job selling UT’s history and facilities to build the nation’s #2 ranked recruiting class.

Still, coaches are judged by wins and Volunteer fans aren’t likely to enjoy what will probably be another six- or seven-loss team next year.  If Jones can weather some unfair grumbling, his third team should begin to show improvement in 2015.  At that point, we’ll begin to see if Hart is right about the man he hired last December.

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Vandy Rallies At Tennessee; Mizzou Grinds Out Win At Ole Miss

postgame-links-150x1501Vanderbilt 14- Tennessee 10. Video Highlights

1. Vanderbilt rallies with 12-play, 92-yard drive. Quarterback Patton Robinette scores touchdown with 16 seconds left.

2. Crucial call gives Vanderbilt a first down in the last minute.  ”This is Tennessee football, where defeat sometimes is yanked from the jaws of victory.”

3. UT defensive tackle Daniel Hood: “We went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.”

4. By the beginning of the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt had lost its entire starting secondary to injuries or ejections.

5. Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews sets the record for the most catches in SEC history.  Caught 13 passes Saturday night for 133 yards.

6. Tennessee’s bowl hopes eliminated with loss.  ”Clad in gray, the Volunteers again came up one play here or there short of finishing the victory.”

Missouri 24 – Ole Miss 10. Video Highlights

7. 10-1 Tigers one win away from heading to SEC Championship Game. Wide receiver L’Damian Washington: “We want to be a part of history.”

8. Joe Strauss: “The Tigers imposed themselves in ways inconceivable during their 2012 debut in the Southeastern Conference.”

9. Joe Walljasper: “On a chilly November night in the South, Pinkel’s Tigers delivered a definitive statement: They are not who we thought they were.”

10. Gary Pinkel becomes only second Missouri coach to reach 100 wins at the school.

11. Missed opportunities for Ole Miss.  Just three points in three trips to the Red Zone.

12. Representatives from five bowls on hand Saturday night in Oxford.

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Get Ready For A Big Distraction, Bama… Report: Saban Feeling “Special Pressure” And Would Leave For Texas

nick-saban-blesses-the-massesLast January, Nick Saban’s agent talked by phone with a pair of regents from the University of Texas.  The conversation centered on Saban’s interest in trading the Alabama Crimson Tide for the Texas Longhorns.

Through an open records request, the Associated Press has gotten its hands on an email that former Texas regent Tom Hicks sent to his brother, regent Steve Hicks, about that call.  His email stated:

 

“(Saban’s agent Jimmy) Sexton confirmed that UT is the only job Nick would possibly consider leaving Alabama for, and that his success there created special pressure for him.”

 

Start your timers.  It won’t be long before Saban’s top is blown due to reporters peppering him with questions about Texas and the “special pressure” he feels at Bama.  For a man who hates distractions this — and rumors that his wife visited Austin, Texas to look at vacation property in recent weeks — will be a major headache.

Having said that, we at MrSEC.com still don’t buy that Saban would leave Alabama for Texas.  Not at all.  Not for a second.  And we’re more than willing to throw out mega-whoopsies if we’re wrong.

First, no agent on the planet does a better job of using outside interest for leverage than Sexton.  It would only behoove Sexton — and Saban’s wallet — to use the uber-rich Longhorns for leverage with Alabama (where he makes more than $5 million per year already).  And remember, this call took place in January.  By April, Saban’s staff had been given a 15% hike in pay.  Hmmm.

“Would possibly consider?”

Yeah, that’s a real guarantee.  Even if Sexton reached out to Texas — and that appears to be the case (see the link up top) — it’s still likely that it was Sexton’s usual ploy of whipping up interest in order to re-open contract talks.

Second, the 62-year-old Saban has said many a time that he’s too old to move again.  He said as much in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired last Sunday.  In the interview he also said that he regretted his “I will not be the Alabama coach” remark before leaving the Miami Dolphins because it hurt his integrity.  Would he be willing to go down that road again?  (Yeah, OK, on that one, we’ll say perhaps.)

Finally, if Sexton or Saban believe he could alleviate the “special pressure” his victories have created at Alabama by taking on the role of savior at Texas they’re both nuts.  Want special pressure?  Head to Texas.

And would Saban want to work for guys who aren’t smart enough to keep their and his business out of emails?

Speaking of the Horns, Mack Brown has recovered nicely from a shaky start to the season.  Texas whipped its biggest rival Oklahoma and has darted out to a 5-0 record in the Big 12.  At 6-2 overall, Brown can still get his squad into a BCS bowl, though an end-of-the-season game with Baylor looms large.

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