Following a few hours of step-by-step rumors -- Tom Crean is out of the running, Cuonzo Martin has been offered the job, Martin has resigned from Cal, etc. — it’s official: Martin is Missouri’s new head basketball coach.
It would appear Missouri offered quite a bit of money as well.
Cuonzo Martin's deal is 7 years and worth a little more than $21 million, source told ESPN. https://t.co/ffkX7oEjQp— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 15, 2017
Money aside, this news comes as little surprise to anyone who has been following the coaching search particularly closely. After lots of early buzz surrounding Indiana head coach Tom Crean, Martin’s name emerged as the likely leader early in the week and stayed there.
Martin has nine years of head coaching experience, six in power conferences. He inherited three tricky situations and needed one year, max, to get things turning back around.
At Missouri State, he inherited a team with two seniors and mostly freshmen and sophomores, went 11-20 in his first go-round, then went 50-21 with two top-75 (per Ken Pomeroy) teams.
At Tennessee, he had the thankless task of taking over for Bruce Pearl. He took over a team that was 19-15 the year before and had only a couple of seniors, and he went 19-15, 20-13, and 24-13. The team was top-75 for two years, top-10 the third.
At Cal, he took over a program that had been in neutral for a couple of years (21 wins with a No. 56-60 ranking in the two years prior). As has been his custom, he had a first-year reset (18-15, No. 112) and has since gone 44-23 with a winning record in Pac-12 play twice.
Martin is known to have strong St. Louis-area ties, and he has proven himself a good recruiter.
Martin is an East St. Louis product who played for Purdue under Gene Keady in the early 1990s. He averaged 16.3 points per game as a junior in 1993-94 and 18.4 per game as a senior in 1994-95. He was drafted 57th in the 1995 NBA Draft and played for parts of two seasons in the NBA, then played for Ciro Avellino in Italy for a year before beginning his head coaching career.
Martin was a Purdue assistant from 2000-07, through the beginning of the Keady era and the start of Matt Painter’s tenure before Missouri State came calling.
Martin is clearly a good coach, but the questions remain: What’s his true upside, and what is his true program building ability? His job hopping can be explained, but it has prevented us from seeing what he can do in one location over time. Still, it’s obvious why Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk would consider him attractive.
First and foremost: his ties to the Midwest. An East St. Louis native, Martin recruited the area while at Purdue as an assistant and again as a head coach at Missouri State. He stuck to more regional recruiting while at Cal and Tennessee, but his relationships and the respect for him in the St. Louis area are as high as ever.
He’s a proven recruiter who has landed multiple five-star recruits and a handful of four-stars as well. He got both Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb to commit to Cal in 2014, which was a pretty big recruiting coup at the time.
While the “unlock St. Louis” thing is probably overplayed with Martin, he’s certainly well-liked around the circles that matter, and he would have a better chance of keeping St. Louis players in state than any Mizzou coach before him.
Martin raises the floor for every program he runs, but the big question is about his ceiling. He’s only had one season where his team has lost fewer than 10 games and that was his last season in Springfield. He’s a career 61-45 in conference play, which is a 0.575 win percentage — good, but you think it could be better.
It seems as though his teams are perpetually on the bubble, which probably sounds great to Mizzou fans right now, but what about in five or six years?
Martin would take over a program with decent complementary pieces and the need for a huge energy boost. He has averaged 16 wins per year in his first season, 22.3 in his second, and 23.7 in his third. Might there be frustration down the line? Perhaps. But he might be the perfect coach for getting Missouri back to where it was not too long ago.
Here’s to hoping, anyway.