The elephant in the room has hardly been brought up all season long.

On Monday, it could no longer be ignored. Coming off another bad loss to Texas A&M and sitting at 16-11 in what many pegged as a make-or-break season for Tennessee basketball, the embattled face of the program was prodded by question after question from reporters over his job security.

And Cuonzo Martin, like practically everything else the third-year coach has faced since arriving in Knoxville on March 2011, handled it with a business-like, no-nonsense approach.

"Don't waste time and energy on it," Martin said of how he deals with outside criticism and pressure. "The next game presents itself and you move forward."

Pressure is nothing new to Martin, who played four years at Purdue, two years in the NBA and had two years of head coaching experience at Missouri State before arriving on Rocky Top.

But with the tough spell UT has fallen upon as a program in this past half-decade, pressure and negativity has reached another level as of late on Rocky Top. That has only intensified with each loss this year.

The overwhelming portion of the fan base unhappy with Martin's coaching abilities has remained vocal all season, with the Vols not proving able to quiet them with a late-season win streak like in previous years.

As angry fans beg for Bruce Pearl's return, Martin doesn't see any reason to lose sleep over the hate — even if it's a level of criticism that has never before been hurled at him.

"I've been doing it for years," Martin said of dealing with pressure. "For me, as a ball player and as a coach, I've been consumed with what I need to do for years. If you put the work in, everything else takes care of itself.

"I don't have that kind of time and energy. If it's negative, I don't consume myself with it."

Martin has certainly experienced pressure before, but his next four-plus games will likely be the biggest of his career. With such a weak NCAA bubble, finishing off these last two weeks with four victories and perhaps picking up another would put the Vols in solid position heading into the SEC Tournament.

But this season seems to weigh much larger than the previous two due to UT's increased talent, experience and depth. The same result — a NIT appearance — as the first two years would not be a good look for his future, much less his reputation among the fan base.

If there is one relationship apparently not yet broken, it's his with Tennessee Athletics Director Dave Hart — the man who ultimately decides whether he remains on board in 2014-15. Martin said the two communicate frequently.

"I talk to Dave all the time," Martin said. "The thing we talk about, just each particular game and Dave does a good job, win or lose, texting or calling about the game.

"But other than that, not at all. We just talk basketball."

The never-ending battle for college coaches when it relates to outside pressure is having your players adopt that same mindset of ignorance to it. From rampant use of social media to living on campus, it becomes impossible for 18-to-22-year-olds to always turn a blind eye or ear.

That's why Martin makes sure to hammer that point home to his team as well.

"We talked in July about not reading and dealing with things like that," Martin said. "It was before the season even started, because we know that it gets to this point.

"But those young guys, they read what they want to read. They will see stuff. I mean, they are on campus. That is part of it. You control it as much as you can control it as a coach and make the guys understand to consume yourself with your teammates and the task at hand."