KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If new Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin has the same sort of success on the court as he has had in recruiting, some Tennessee fans will be quick to take note.
The Vols have missed the postseason each of the past three seasons Martin has been gone, including the last two with popular veteran coach Rick Barnes at the helm.
While Barnes was signing the No. 53-ranked recruiting class coming off a 16-16 season on Wednesday, Martin was in Columbia landing the No. 1-ranked basketball recruit (Michael Porter Jr.) and the No. 10 class, according to ESPN.com.
Tennessee fans have proven they will support men’s basketball in elite fashion when the program is winning, often ranking in the top 5 in the nation during Bruce Pearl’s tenure as head coach.
Barnes has been in a rebuilding mold the past two years, trying to get the program back on track after former UT athletic director Dave Hart inexplicably hired Donnie Tyndall after Martin’s departure.
Tyndall was known to have potential NCAA complications before he arrived in Knoxville, and they ultimately caught up to him while he was the head coach of the Vols and led to his departure.
Most Tennessee media and fans like Barnes’ style. The former Texas coach has gotten his Vols’ teams to play hard, and Barnes demands public accountability after each defeat.
The 45-year-old Martin, who coached the Vols between 2011-2014, wasn’t as popular as Barnes despite the fact he had more success.
Martin had the misfortune of taking over after the wildly popular and successful Pearl, who led Tennessee to the greatest success in its basketball history with six straight NCAA appearances and the program’s first-ever No. 1 ranking.
Martin enjoyed moderate success at Tennessee, taking the program to two NIT appearances before a Sweet 16 run in 2014, but many fans clamored for Pearl to return.
Hart was slow to offer Martin a contract extension his final season, and Martin took note. The breakdown in the relationship with Hart — the lack of trust — led Martin to take the head coaching job at Cal.
Some Tennessee basketball fans have kept one eye on Pearl’s tenure at Auburn, and now Martin’s success at Missouri will be something that is noted.
The sooner Martin or Pearl reach the NCAA tournament, the sooner the pressure will mount on Barnes to produce an NCAA tournament team at Tennessee.
Mike Griffith and WNML’s Josh Ward discuss the basketball dynamic on today’s podcast.