Randy Smith: Vols Face Cuonzo Tonight

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith
I have always liked Cuonzo Martin.  He was always easy to work with during his three-year tenure as head coach at the University of Tennessee. When Dane Bradshaw and I substituted for Bert Bertelkamp and Bob Kesling on the Vol Network at the San Juan Puerto Rico Classic in 2012, Coach Martin sent me a nice letter thanking me for my efforts in broadcasting the Vols' games. If you remember when he left at the end of the 2014 season, there was a petition going around to bring back Bruce Pearl as the Vols' head coach. Cuonzo decided it was time to leave, so he took the vacant job at California and took his entire staff with him.

I'm not sure what impact that petition had on his decision to leave, Cuonzo swears it had nothing to do with his ultimate choice to pack up and go.
However, I have to believe he wanted no part of the Big Orange Nation if they didn't want him to be there. Then athletic director Dave Hart hired Donnie Tyndall for one year before he was released due to past NCAA woes.  That was a really bad hire as Tyndall, who was recently accused of "masterminding" the academic fraud scandal when he was head coach at Southern Miss, was replaced by former Texas head coach Rick Barnes. That decision by Hart was one of the few things he did correctly in his tumultuous time at Tennessee. Barnes, who is in his third year as the Vols' head coach, has his team ranked 21st in the latest college basketball poll.

Tonight in Columbia, Missouri, Barnes' Vols face Cuonzo Martin and his Missouri Tigers. The Tigers are in their first season under Cuonzo and, while they suffered through an 8-24 season last year, they are now 12-5 overall and 2-2 in the SEC. The Tigers have already equaled their SEC win total of two last season. The man can flat out coach and, while I was so disappointed when he abruptly left the Vols in 2014 after taking them to the NCAA "Sweet 16", that is now history. I'm really happy that Rick Barnes is at Tennessee and I'm also happy that Cuonzo is now doing well at his alma mater. 

When that infamous petition was going around when the Vols started 6-4 in the 2013-14 campaign Martin took the high road. He used that conflict and turmoil and transferred it to a positive incentive for his players to win eight of their last 10 games and advance to the NCAA Tournament. He handled it that way because he is a fighter. He has already whipped cancer in his lifetime so the negative vibes he went through in Knoxville were a piece of cake.

So, tonight at 9:00 when the Vols and the Tigers tip it up I will be watching in front of my television set. I will be pulling for Tennessee to win but I will also be pulling for Cuonzo Martin to continue to be successful at Mizzou. He's that kind of person; someone you always want to pull for.
 
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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com




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