Tennessee men's basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin has left Knoxville after three seasons to take the same position at the University of California.

UT Athletic Director Dave Hart announced the news in a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

"We had a great run through the (NCAA) tournament," Hart said, "and I want to again recognize the job Cuonzo Martin did as our head basketball coach and that his staff did in making the contributions in order for us to end with a very memorable basketball season.

"I know I, and everybody connected in our athletics department and university, wish him nothing but success at Cal."

Hart met with the Tennessee players around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday to inform them of the news. Martin was not in attendance.

Martin met with Marquette officials regarding its then-vacant head coaching job days after the Vols were bounced from the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 on March 28. But on April 1, joint statements from Hart and Martin announced he would remain to coach the Vols in 2014-15 with a contract extension coming.

Hart made an offer — a raise to $1.8 million annually, which was a $450,000 increase from his previous deal but still only enough to make him the seventh highest-paid coach in the SEC.

Martin was given no timetable on accepting the deal, leaving Hart shocked when Martin told him of his intentions to take the Cal job Tuesday morning.

"I did not know Cuonzo was involved in the California job until this morning," Hart said. "We did have a conversation. He was very emotional and the bottom line is he said that in his heart, he believes that this was best for he and his family.

"Today is also a surprising day for me. I did not think that we would be back into where we find ourselves today."

The news wasn't quite as surprising for many others. Martin grew unpopular among a portion of the fan base this past season when an online petition promoting the re-hiring of Bruce Pearl surpassed 37,000 signatures.

"I probably didn't hear about (the petition) until it was too late," said Martin during his introductory press conference at Cal. "When you are coaching, you got your head down and you are working, you don't get consumed with things on the peripheral.

"For me, I thought it was a great teaching point for our guys. We always talk about having character, going through adversity, dealing with situations, and what happens in the process, you develop young men because they saw my approach every day. I came to work with my hard hat on and nothing changed."

According to Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour, Martin's contract, which is still being finalized, is for five years. The financial details will be released at a letter date.

Martin also stated that he will be bring "quite a few" of his assistant coaches from Tennessee to Cal once his contact is completed.

Hart reiterated that he wouldn't speak for Martin, but hinted that those distractions may have played into his decision.

"One man's opinion — I don't think Cuonzo's decision was driven by dollars or was driven by necessarily number of years (on contract)," Hart said. "I don't. It was a tough year. And again, I don't want to speak for Cuonzo, but it was a tough year for Cuonzo and (his wife) Roberta.

"There were a lot of distractions. You (media) know what they were. You reported on them."

The buyback into Martin from much of UT's fan base during the No. 11 seed Vols' improbable Sweet 16 run seemingly wasn't enough to overcome seasons of burnt bridges.

Despite that petition gaining national media attention and painting UT's fan base in a bad light, Hart was full of positives.

"You've heard me say this many times: give me the passion," Hart said. "We have a very passionate fan base.

"Can passion sometimes be misdirected? Sure, it can, at times. But we're very, very blessed with a really passionate fan base"

Hart said that the search for the next Vols' basketball coach begins "immediately." A search firm won't be used, as Hart will lead the search.

Head coaching experience and a proven track record are on the top of his wish list.

"What the timetable is, is often times difficult to nail down," Hart said of the coaching search. "We're late in the sense that we're right on top of Signing Day and the Final Four has come and gone.

"But we will immediately get in now to that search process."​




Timeline: Cuonzo Martin's tenure at Tennessee

Timeline courtesy of Samantha Smoak/The Daily Beacon