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VOL. 38 | NO. 5 | Friday, January 31, 2014

UT coach’s biggest failing: He’s not Bruce Pearl

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Cuonzo Martin can’t win. OK, he can win, but even when he does win, it seemingly isn’t enough.

Martin still hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament. Or he isn’t winning by enough points. He isn’t this, he isn’t that.

But most of all, to those wearing orange-colored glasses, Martin isn’t good enough because he isn’t Bruce Pearl. That, more than anything else, seems to be Martin’s biggest transgression in Knoxville.

By most all accounts, Martin is a decent and honorable man, but he simply has the misfortune of following someone who achieved rock star status during his six seasons at the University of Tennessee, a stint that included six NCAA Tournament appearances.

In fact there are many in Vol Nation who might try to put Pearl on UT’s coaching Mount Rushmore with General Neyland, Pat Summitt and Ray Mears – even if he doesn’t quite deserve that lofty an accolade.

And even though Pearl landed himself and the Vols in hot water with the NCAA by hosting a barbecue at his home and then lying to investigators about what happened, it seems he can still do no wrong in the eyes of many with Big Orange Nation.

Martin, on the other hand, can do no right, simply because he isn’t Pearl.

The fact that Pearl still lives in Knoxville and is visible in the community probably doesn’t help Martin’s situation either.

Yes, the spectre of Pearl casts a huge shadow over a Volunteer program that had wandered in the wilderness for years before his arrival.

Most forgive the fact that Pearl’s final team struggled to a 19-15 record, the exact same record Martin put up in his first season at Tennessee. The Vols actually finished 10-6 in the SEC under Martin in 2011-12 after going 8-8 in league play in 2010-11.

The difference in that, though, was that Pearl’s final UT team made the NCAA Tournament, while Martin’s first edition settled for the NIT.

After the Volunteers were thrashed over the weekend, 67-41, at Florida, speculation arose again that Martin might be on the hot seat in just his third season.

Fueling the fire is the talk of bringing back Pearl once the show cause for his NCAA penalties expires in August.

But is this really the path that the University of Tennessee wants to take?

It would be wrong for a couple of reasons.

First, even though Martin has yet to make it to the NCAA Tournament, and at 12-7, there is no guarantee that he will this year either, do the Vols really want to pull the plug on him just yet?

UT athletics director Dave Hart already has a bit of a quick trigger finger when it comes to booting football coaches. Does he really want to kick a basketball coach to the curb before Martin can even see his first recruiting class through graduation?

Also, if Martin is shown the door, does Hart really want to bring back Pearl just to appease the UT fan base? Surely, the NCAA would cast a jaundiced eye at Pearl for going right back to the scene of the crime and retaking the reins of the Volunteers program the moment the show cause expires.

At what cost to the program’s reputation do Volunteer fans want a winner?

Louisville football certainly has swallowed its pride for the sake of the almighty W by bringing back coaching scoundrel Bobby Petrino for a second go-around.

But is such a move back to a likable-but-tainted guy like Pearl really the direction Hart wants to go if he decides Martin isn’t the answer?

In truth, we still don’t know yet whether or not Martin is the answer. Maybe that question needs a little more time and patience before it can be fully and correctly answered.

Even though Martin might not be Pearl in terms of out-of-the-gate success and flamboyance, Vol fans need only think back a few years to the dark days of coaches like Wade Houston and Buzz Peterson to realize that maybe Martin isn’t so bad after all.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.