I've got several links and a few things to say about the Vols advancing to the Sweet 16. First off, I'm pumped. These players have all worked hard and deserve it. I loved seeing the energy we saw from Cuonzo Martin. I feel like we know him a little better.
Here's a bit from an open letter to Cuonzo Martin:
We were blind to the type of leader you are. We were blind to the love your players have for you. We ignored the quiet work you do in the community—work you do because you care, not because you want to draw attention to yourself. We were blind to your growth as a coach and to your potential.
Yet, here you are in the Sweet 16 leading a team that might be the best story of the tournament. Here you are leading a group of young men who blocked out all our chatter, backed you, and embraced your coaching. You deserve a tremendous amount of credit for keeping this team together. Many coaches would have lost them when the criticism reached deafening levels, but not you. Instead, you got them playing together at just the right time.
This is great stuff and it's absolutely true. I was someone who was salivating over the idea of Bruce Pearl coming back. It wasn't really fair to Cuonzo Martin.
Here are some thoughts from Tennessee Sports Radio:
Before this season, Martin had never led the Vols to the NCAA Tournament. That’s a fail, folks, and one need look no further than to Bruce Pearl’s six-year tenure as the Vols’ head coach for confirmation of such. A stretch during which the Tennessee Volunteers punched their ticket to the dance every single season. Three times they danced all the way to the Sweet 16, one of those tangos evolving into the program’s first and only Elite 8 appearance ever. Thanks to Bruce Pearl, NCAA Tournament appearances are now expected in Knoxville. And rightly so.
Which is why Cuonzo Martin came under ever increasing scrutiny this season. For he entered it 0-2 in the only stat that mattered. NCAA Tournament berths...
Therefore, many in Vol Nation believed Cuonzo Martin was a horrible coach. Bruce Pearl was a great one whose show-cause was just about to end. So 36,000 members of Vol Nation signed on the dotted virtual line and made it official. Time for the great coach to replace the horrible one.
The only problem with that is that Cuonzo Martin isn’t a horrible coach. Don’t get me wrong. He certainly hadn’t proven he was a great one. Not by any stretch. A great coach doesn’t put forth a team which underachieves as often as Martin’s team did this year. But calling Martin a horrible coach isn’t accurate, either. A horrible coach doesn’t win 60-plus games in three seasons. A horrible coach doesn’t land five-star recruits like Robert Hubbs III. A horrible coach doesn’t keep a team together when 36,000 fans have officially called for his head.
This team looked very different a month ago. There wasn't much they'd done to give us reason to expect they would play like this. Not consistently. I don't think at that time you were wrong to think, maybe it's time for a change back to Bruce Pearl. But this is why you wait until the end of the season to make decisions like this.
I also have confess to being swayed by the show that is Bruce Pearl. He's enthusiastic. He paints his chest. He makes jokes about bacon. He promises to kick Florida's ass, and delivers.
Cuonzo is a quiet guy. He doesn't say more than he needs to. And I absolutely faulted him for that which is unfair. You don't have to make a show of yourself to be a great coach (see: pretty much every other great coach). And we've always known he's a great man. That's why we followed up a coach who made questionable decisions with him.
Cuonzo still has a lot to prove. But he's at the very least proven he can make a sweet 16. He's got a good chance to do more than that. He's going to have a challenge ahead next year, but he's earned the security to show us what else he has up his sleeve.