As one chapter ended last Monday, March 21, in the tumultuous saga of recent Tennessee athletics, another began just as quickly this Monday.
Much to the surprise of the student and faculty bodies at UT, the school's athletics director Mike Hamilton announced Sunday evening in an official press release that Cuonzo LaMar Martin of Missouri State was hired as the 18th Tennessee men's basketball coach.
Buzz of the new hiring spread around campus like wildfire Sunday, a little after 7:30 p.m., and a press conference was called for the following day at 2:30 p.m. What was most shocking was not the immediacy of the hiring — 10 days after the Vols' lackluster performance and loss to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — but rather the little public information known about the new coach arriving in Knoxville this week.
"When I heard we had hired (Martin), I had no idea who he was," Kyle Kempka, junior in mechanical engineering, said. "After looking him up, though, his resume made him look much better. I was sure we would get a name bigger than Cuonzo Martin."
On Monday, the mindset of the student body remained that Tennessee could have — and maybe should have — hired a bigger, better, more credible name to replace the recruiting juggernaut, Bruce Pearl, regardless of whether the NCAA Tournament was still going on.
"At first I was pretty surprised because I had never heard of (Martin) before, and I kind of felt like a big SEC school would have the ability to hire almost anybody that they wanted to," Alex Jackson, sophomore in pre-veterinary interest, said. "Somebody with maybe a better resume in Division I, but you just have to hope for the best."
Whitney Haworth, sophomore in journalism and electronic media, offered another opinion on the hiring of the little-known coach.
"At first I was pretty negative about it, but I had to think about it," she said. "When Bruce Pearl was hired, I had no clue who he was either, so I am willing to give (Martin) a chance. I haven't gotten the opportunity to look into what he has done, but from what I have heard, he is probably a good pick for our school."
What bothered Battle Alex Beasley, a junior in business pre-major, the most about the hiring of Martin is the coach's background in a mid-major conference, the Missouri Valley Conference. Digging farther, Beasley realized the coach's background had more depth than he originally thought.
"My initial reaction to the new coach was, 'What conference do you even come from?'" Beasley said. "I thought we were getting some coach from Division III, an Ohio State (move) hiring coach Jim Tressel in football. Upon reading up on (Martin), he's up for two national coach of the year awards, and (Chancellor) Jimmy Cheek was involved, and he's one of the those no-nonsense guys, so I have faith that (Martin) will be all right."
If anything is certain, it is the fact that Martin will have to come in running a squeaky clean camp at UT amidst the self-reportings of recruiting violations and NCAA violations committed by Bruce Pearl and his staff.
One thing the new coach has done already is mention how excited he is for the opportunity provided to coach in the presence of the Tennessee students and Rocky Top Rowdies, who support Big Orange basketball.
"The thing about the students is, we'll have fun with this thing, but one thing about the student experience, you also are supporting your fellow students who are on the floor playing, so I think that's the biggest key," Martin said. "We'll play hard, we'll compete, we'll have fun with this thing, 'cause it is still a tradition, and it's still your university and as a student you want to support your university."