Missouri is all the way in on new basketball coach Cuonzo Martin. His new seven-year, $21 million contract will make him the second-highest-paid hoops coach in the SEC. Only John Calipari earns more. The contract is nearly triple what former coach Kim Anderson was paid.
“This is your house now,” interim Missouri chancellor Hank Foley told the crowd at Martin’s introductory media conference.
Foley is right. Martin instantly becomes the face of a rebuilding Mizzou athletic program, a university still reeling after the protests that engulfed campus in 2015. In fact, just a few years after SEC football division titles and 30-win basketball seasons, the Tigers finished last in the SEC in both sports.
It’s tremendous responsibility for a coach who has yet to stay with a program for more than three seasons. However, Martin has a chance to instantly lead a rebuild.
Martin is among the best recruiters in the nation. In 2015 at California, he reeled in a pair of top-10 players: Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. He leveraged that Cal team into a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, the potential is even higher at Missouri.
Former coaches at Mizzou were criticized for not capitalizing on the St. Louis market. Really, the Tigers failed to enforce a presence in the state at all. The state of Missouri produced eight 4-star and three 5-star prospects since 2011, as assessed by 247Sports’ composite rankings. Mizzou didn’t land a single one. Already, the recruiting wave is starting to shift.
Martin, who played high school basketball in East St. Louis, Ill., should help shift the recruiting wave in Missouri immediately. Don’t be surprised to see the staff push for 5-star forward Carte’Are Gordon out of St. Louis. However, the biggest swing might come earlier.
One of Martin’s first reported moves was hiring former Washington assistant Michael Porter. His son, Michael Porter Jr., is the No. 2 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class. His other son, Jontay Porter, is rated the No. 32 player in the class of 2018. There’s some talk he could reclassify to the class of 2017 to play with his brother. At this point, both are considered to be Missouri leans.
The Tigers could also go after Illinois signee Jeremiah Tilmon, the No. 29 player in the class and a center at East St. Louis High. After reeling in just two top-40 classes since 2010 (both five-man classes), recruiting should instantly transform into a strength. Martin’s infectious personality will be the primary driver.
Martin coached at three programs: Missouri State, Tennessee and Cal. Each time, it took him just two seasons to reach 20 wins. With certain phrases in his contract, that will immediately be the expectation in Columbia. If he can reel in a few of his recruiting targets, Martin is poised well to achieve that quickly.
The numbers in Martin’s contract are eye-popping, but it shows the expectations athletic director Jim Sterk has for his tenure. The contract is significantly more than the five-year, $11.8 million contract football coach Barry Odom received last offseason. Missouri joins Kentucky and Vanderbilt as the only SEC programs to pay their basketball coach more than their football cohort.
Martin’s contract contains a stipulation that if the Tigers have yet to win 20 games after three seasons, Missouri can void the contract without cause. For a team that went 8-24 last season, that clause is significant.
While building a winning basketball program will be important, Martin’s most significant will be being the face of the athletic department. It’s somewhat of a risk, especially considering his reputation — deserved or not — of bailing. He tried to put that to rest right away.
“My plan is to be here for 20 years. This is it for me,” Martin said at the introductory media conference. “We have everything to be the last team standing one day. That’s my goal.”
Missouri does have the resources and fan base to compete with most teams in the nation. More importantly, he has the full support of the fans and athletic department for the first time since coaching at the mid-major level. The situation is finally right.
Martin’s hiring represents a watershed moment in Missouri athletic department. His results will shape the program for a decade.