Cuonzo Martin Huddles With His Team During a Timeout at the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament in Nashville This Past Spring
Tennessee head basketball coach Cuonzo Martin asked for a raise and an extension from UT athletics director Dave Hart in the offseason. It was announced this week that Martin will receive a nominal $50,000 annual raise, but there was no mention of an extension of his contract.
He is in his third season of the five-year deal he originally signed when he was hired away from Missouri State. So far, the results he has produced have not warranted an extended stay in Big Orange Country.
Martin will have his most experienced and talented team in his head coaching career this season. He has never made the NCAA Tournament as a head coach, and some Vol fans are saying that if he doesn't make the tourney this year, he should be canned like the choice Grainger County tomatoes that are grown just outside Knoxville in former Vol Skylar McBee's home area.
McBee was a fan favorite and is now gone. Jordan McRae will definitely be the team's go-to guy this season, and we will see what three years of recruiting has produced for Martin in the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference wars.
In the Bruce Pearl era, the Big Orange went to the Big Dance every season. With the expansion of the field to 68 teams, there's no excuse for a program with all of the facilities and money Tennessee has to not continue to do so.
Former assistant Houston Fancher left in the offseason to rejoin his old boss, Buzz Peterson, at UNC Wilmington. Strength and conditioning coach Nicodemus Christopher reported to me at the Rocky Top League summer tournament that he has this team in the best condition and stronger than perhaps any team in Vol history, so stamina will not be an excuse in any losses during the year.
The big question mark is whether Jeronne Maymon will ever get back to 100 percent playing shape following a long layoff with injury complications. That will be a key in getting pressure on the inside off of fellow big man Jarnell Stokes.
The natives are getting restless on The Hill. With new football head coach Butch Jones not being expected to produce much on the gridiron in what is expected to be a rebuilding year at best, as well as with women's basketball suffering a big loss on the recruiting trail recently, men's basketball and its performance on the hardwood may be the only projected bright spot this year for long-suffering Vol fans.
No doubt, the pressure is on Martin and his staff to produce. If he doesn't, UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Hart will have to take a long look at where they are and where they're going with the men's program on the court, as attendance will drop off in basketball as much as it has in football if winning and championships don't return to Knoxville soon.