The Cuonzo Martin era of Missouri basketball the program announced in a release on Friday evening.
“Coach Martin represented the University with an extremely high level of class and dignity”, Reed-Francois said. “He is a man of high character whom I have the upmost respect for, and we are grateful for his contributions to our program, on and off the floor. He is not only a coach, but is a teacher, and he has impacted the lives of every student-athlete who came through the program over the last five years. We wish him, Roberta, and their family nothing but the best in the future.”
The terms of Martin’s contract will be honored by Mizzou Athletics.
Moving on from the fifth-year coach after a roster overhaul produced an 11-21 record, one where the Tigers lost eight games by 20 points more, feels like a prudent move.
Despite a pair of NCAA Tournament bids, Martin slowly became a lightning rod for criticism, especially for his results on the recruiting trail and roster construction. Yet a trip to the dance last March gave him runway to launch an overhaul, and he used it to import four transfers — and just one from a high-major program — to go with five freshmen.
It was apparent early on the results would go beyond poor. A 14-point loss to UMKC ushered in a 6-6 start, punctuated by blowouts in rivalry games, on a neutral floor to Florida State, and a trip to Liberty.
MU briefly found its footing over a seven-game stretch midway through the season. But tweaks to a punchless offense only produced short-lived improvement. Even then, Martin’s squad fumbled away wins against Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, and Florida slip away — results that might have given Reed-Francois evidence to stand pat.
Instead, MU saw its roster thinned by Sean Durugordon’s transfer and injuries to Anton Brookshire, Yaya Keita, and Jordan Wilmore. As a result, the Tigers wilted over the final 11 games with just eight bodies, only notching a pair of wins against Ole Miss and Georgia.
On Thursday, fifth-seeded LSU coasted to a victory in the SEC tournament, feasting on 24 turnovers and leading by as many as 25 points late in the first half. Four of MU’s final six losses came by 19 points or more.
Throughout his time on the job, Martin’s resourcefulness proved an asset. It helped MU overcome a devastating injury to Michael Porter Jr. to end a five-year drought from the NCAA Tournament. It enabled him to mine valuable pieces like Dru Smith and Mark Smith from the transfer portal. And shift his offense toward a pick-and-roll-based system that paved the way for another tournament bid.
Sustaining momentum, though, proved challenging. After a top-five recruiting class in 2017, Martin’s staff struggled to land the talent to keep pace in the SEC. It only inked two top-100 prospects the rest of the way: Tray Jackson and Aidan Shaw. Jackson only lasted a season before transferring, and Shaw wasn’t due to join the program until next year. In between, the Tigers missed on a slew of high-priority prospects — E.J. Liddell, Caleb Love, and Tamar Bates — from local recruiting grounds.
Meanwhile, his teams often lacked the kind of ball-handling and reliable shooting to make his offensive approach viable. This year’s roster proved especially problematic. Instead of recruiting a proven point guard, Martin and his staff hoped Ball State transfer Jarron Coleman, a combo guard, would smoothly transition into the role. It didn’t happen, and the remaining options were a pair of untested freshmen in Anton Brookshire and Kaleb Brown. On top of that, MU was the fourth-worst 3-point shooting team in the country.
It didn’t help that it was also the worst defensive group Martin has assembled at a power-conference job, finishing 135th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Unable to score or get stops, the Tigers became just the sixth team in school history to lose 20 or more games in a season.