Time is finally right for Mizzou to hire Martin

COLUMBIA, Mo. • The third chance was the charm for Missouri and Cuonzo Martin.

Each of the last two times Mizzou went looking for its next men’s basketball coach Martin appeared on the Tigers’ radar, but their paths never crossed in the job market. Now that’s changed.

In his first major coaching search since taking over as Mizzou athletics director last fall, Jim Sterk had the 45-year-old University of California coach high on his list from the start. Wednesday was the end as MU lured Martin back to his Midwest roots to run a program coming off three consecutive last-place finishes in the Southeastern Conference. Martin will replace Kim Anderson, Mizzou announced Wednesday, making him the school’s 19th men’s basketball coach.

Martin, born in St. Louis and raised in East St. Louis, has been a head coach at three Division I programs, spending the last three seasons in Berkeley. Official terms of his contract won’t be released until his introductory news conference Monday, though it’s expected to be a seven-year deal for a reported $21 million, which would make Martin the highest-paid basketball coach in school history.

Martin, whose first name is pronounced KAHN-zo, had a 62-39 record at Cal. The Bears were 21-13 this season, ending with Tuesday’s first-round loss in the NIT to Cal-Bakersfield.

“We are thrilled that Cuonzo is returning to the Midwest and that his family will now call Columbia home,” Sterk said. “From the outset of our search, our goal was to find a coach who had demonstrated success, academically and on the court, while also sharing our values and who can help to reignite interest in Mizzou men’s basketball among our fan base. I believe we found all of that and more with Cuonzo and I look forward to watching him compete for championships and postseason appearances for many years to come.”

Martin, a head coach at Cal, Tennessee and Missouri State and assistant at Purdue, where he played and worked under Gene Keady, comes to Missouri with more Division I head-coaching wins than any previous new hire at the school for the position, edging Frank Haith (129), Norm Stewart (97) and Mike Anderson (89). Former coaches Quin Snyder and Kim Anderson had never been Division I head coaches before landing the job at Mizzou.

“He has everything. Experience. Character. Good leader. You name it,” Keady said in a phone interview. “He’s the whole ball of wax. Best leader I ever had in 50 years of coaching.”

While Sterk conducted the search to replace Anderson, fired last month after three seasons netted just 27 wins, Martin had the backing of several prominent donors. But once Illinois fired Jon Groce on Saturday, Martin’s Big Ten ties led some within the coaching industry to believe Illinois was the more natural fit for Martin. But Sterk made Martin a priority and visited with him Sunday in California, a source confirmed. The Mizzou job had been on Martin’s mind for more than a week, another source said, and the talks intensified the last few days.

In nine seasons as a Division I head coach, Martin has a record of 186-121 with NCAA Tournament appearances in 2014 and 2016 at Tennessee and Cal, respectively. In 2011, when Mizzou’s negotiations with Purdue’s Matt Painter imploded, the Tigers would have pursued Martin, then at Missouri State, but he took the Tennessee job while the Painter fiasco unraveled. Then again, three years later, Martin took over at Cal two days before Frank Haith left Mizzou for Tulsa. Otherwise, sources said at the time, Martin would have been near the top of MU’s list.

Martin guided Tennessee to the Sweet 16 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament but left Knoxville for Cal after more than 36,000 fans signed a petition to replace Martin with former Vols coach Bruce Pearl, who was fired for committing NCAA violations. Martin’s best season at Cal came last year when the Bears finished third in the Pac-12 and earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In Berkeley, Martin faced the school’s strict enrollment standards, but recruited two four-star prospects and two five-stars, including Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 pick in last year’s NBA draft to the Boston Celtics, and current standout Ivan Rabb.

Martin’s record is clear of any NCAA sanctions for rules violations.

“I think, like all of us, it takes experience,” Keady said. “You have to understand what it takes to win. It takes about 10 years of experience to do what it takes to win at this level. He grew with the profession. And he has great integrity. He’s like a son to me. … You follow the rules. You don’t cut corners. You don’t pay players because you can’t coach guys you buy. He has the same philosophy. That’s how he was brought up.”

Martin’s hire could pay off immediately for Mizzou recruiting. Washington fired longtime coach Lorenzo Romar on Wednesday, which puts prized recruit Michael Porter Jr. back in the recruiting market. Michael Porter Sr., the player’s father, has been an assistant coach under Romar at Washington. A source close to the situation said Martin will strongly consider hiring Porter Sr. as an assistant at Mizzou with Porter Jr. expected to follow him to Columbia. The Porters lived in Columbia from 2010-2016 when Porter Sr. worked on the Mizzou women’s basketball staff under coach Robin Pingeton, his sister-in-law.

Mizzou was among Porter Jr.’s final five college choices when he committed to Washington last year, along with Indiana, Virginia and Oklahoma. Kim Anderson offered Porter Sr. a job on his staff last spring, but he instead moved to Seattle to join Washington’s staff. The Porters’ younger son, Jontay Porter, a four-star recruit for the 2018 class, is committed to Washington. The Porters’ sisters, Cierra and Bri, play on the Mizzou women’s team. The Porters were unavailable to comment Wednesday.

At Cal, Martin was under contract through 2018-19 and owes the school a reported buyout of at least $1.1 million.

“We put forth our best effort to retain him, but he told me it wasn’t about Cal, rather a strong desire to move closer to home,” Cal AD Mike Williams said.

AP

Missouri Just Poached Cuonzo Martin And They'll Probably Nab The Country's Best Recruit Too

Outgoing Cal basketball coach Cuonzo Martin spent three seasons in Berkeley, where he put together a middling-to-good run. He won 62 of his 101 games and went 2-4 in three years worth of rivalry games against Stanford. Martin’s greatest accomplishment was recruiting Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown to come to the school in 2015, yet all they had to show for that recruiting class was an ignoble first-round NCAA Tournament exit to Hawaii (whoops).

Martin coached his final game for the Bears last night, losing to Cal State Bakersfield in the first round of the NIT. The afternoon after that loss, Martin resigned from his post with two years left on his contract, paying Cal $1.1 million to do so. Why would he give up all that coin to leave Berkeley?

Ah, that’ll do it.

Martin had a good gig at Cal, but $21 million, seven years of job security, and a chance to move back to Missouri are all perfectly good reasons to go. He’s from St. Louis and he coached at Missouri State before leaving for Tennessee and then Cal. His new deal will put him right at the cusp of the top ten highest paid coaches in the nation.

That’s an awful lot of money to pay someone who never won a postseason game at his previous job, but Martin has a ton of upside as a coach because he’s a great recruiter. He got Brown to come all the way across the country to Berkeley and he convinced hometown hero Ivan Rabb to stay put. Missouri is about to get out from under NCAA sanctions; who better to lead the program than a young coach who’s known for bringing in top players? A look at his choice of assistants makes it pretty clear the benefits that he offers.

That’d would be Michael Porter Sr., former Mizzou women’s assistant and father of one of the most coveted high school players in a few years, as well as two current Mizzou women’s players. Michael Porter Jr. and his brothers Jontay and Coban went to go play for Brandon Roy at Seattle high school Nathan Hale last year, and Porter Jr. and Jontay are currently committed to the University of Washington. The Huskies had a golden opportunity to land a family worth of top recruits, but Washington also fired their longtime coach Lorenzo Romar this afternoon, throwing a big wrench in their plans to add Porter Jr. next year. Three starters and three recruits are reportedly considering transferring. Both brothers weighed in and don’t seem too happy with UW right now.

Mizzou is still paying an exorbitant rate for Martin’s services, but if he can consistently recruit at this level and convert talent to on-court success, it might actually be fair market rate.


Mizzou names Cuonzo Martin basketball coach

COLUMBIA, Mo. • Cuonzo Martin is the new men’s basketball head coach at Missouri, the university announced Wednesday.

Martin, a native of East St. Louis, has been a head coach at three Division I programs, spending the last three seasons at the University of California-Berkeley. Official terms of his contract were not released, though it's expected to be a seven-year deal worth a reported $21 million, which would make him the highest-paid basketball coach in team history.

Martin will be officially introduced as Missouri's 19th men's basketball coach at a press conference at 4 p.m. Monday at Mizzou Arena.

Martin, whose first name is pronounced KAHN-zo, had a 62-39 record at Cal. The Bears were 21-13 this season, ending with Tuesday’s first-round loss in the NIT to Cal-Bakersfield. Cal announced Martin’s resignation earlier Wednesday.

“We are thrilled that Cuonzo is returning to the Midwest and that his family will now call Columbia home,” Mizzou athletics director Jim Sterk said. “From the outset of our search, our goal was to find a coach who had demonstrated success, academically and on the court, while also sharing our values and who can help to reignite interest in Mizzou Men’s Basketball among our fan base. I believe we found all of that and more with Cuonzo and I look forward to watching him compete for championships and postseason appearances for many years to come.”

Martin, 45, has been high on Sterk's list since the start of the search process, multiple sources said, and had the backing of several prominent donors. Once Illinois fired Jon Groce, Martin’s Big Ten ties and Illinois roots led some within the coaching industry to believe Illinois was the more natural fit for Martin. SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum tweeted Wednesday that Martin turned down an $18-million offer from Illinois before accepting the Missouri job.

Sterk was in California on Sunday visiting with Martin, a source confirmed. Sterk flew from Jefferson City to Oakland to conduct the meeting.

Martin’s hiring could pay off immediately in recruiting. Washington will fire longtime coach Lorenzo Romar, ESPN reported Thursday, which means prized recruit Michael Porter Jr. will be allowed to ask out of his national letter of intent. Michael Porter Sr., the player’s father, is an assistant coach at Washington. A source close to the situation said Martin will consider hiring Porter Sr. as an assistant coach at Mizzou and Porter Jr. could follow him to Columbia. The Porters lived in Columbia from 2010-2016 when Porter Sr. worked on the Mizzou women’s basketball staff under coach Robin Pingeton, his sister-in-law.

Mizzou was among Porter Jr.’s final five college choices when he committed to Washington last year, along with Indiana, Virginia and Oklahoma. Former Mizzou men’s coach Kim Anderson offered Porter Sr. a job on his staff last summer but he instead moved to Seattle to join Washington’s staff. The Porters’ younger son, Jontay Porter, a four-star recruit for the 2018 class, is committed to Washington. The Porters’ sisters, Cierra and Bri play on the Mizzou women’s team.

Martin’s best season at Cal came last year when the Bears finished third in the Pac-12 and earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest NCAA seed in team history. At Cal, he's recruited two four-star prospects and two five-stars, including Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 pick in last year's NBA draft to the Boston Celtics, and current standout Ivan Rabb.

Martin was under contract through 2018-19 and owes Cal a reported buyout of at least $1.1 million.

"Cuonzo Martin informed me this morning that he is resigning to accept a position at another school," Cal athletics director Mike Williams said. "We put forth our best effort to retain him, but he told me it wasn't about Cal, rather a strong desire to move closer to home. We appreciate all that Cuonzo has done with our men's basketball program over the past three seasons, creating excitement inside Haas Pavilion, guiding our team to a pair of postseason appearances and improving the academic performance of our student-athletes."

Before coming to Cal, Martin, was 63-41 in three seasons at Tennessee, highlighted by a run to the Sweet 16 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Martin left Knoxville for Cal after more than 36,000 fans signed a petition to replace Martin with former Vols coach Bruce Pearl, who was fired for committing NCAA violations. Mizzou would have pursued Martin three years ago, sources said at the time, but he accepted the Cal job just two days before Mizzou coach Frank Haith left for the head-coaching job at Tulsa.

Martin’s first college head-coaching job was at Missouri State, where he was 61-41 from 2008-11, including a Missouri Valley Conference championship in 2011. Martin played for Gene Keady at Purdue and later spent eight seasons at Purdue as an assistant coach.

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