Missouri fires Martin; rival coaches critical of move

Missouri fires Martin; rival coaches critical of move

Missouri fired men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin after five seasons, the school announced Friday, in a move that drew criticism from several of his colleagues throughout college basketball.

Martin took over the Tigers in 2017 after three seasons at California, with Missouri hiring him to replace Kim Anderson. The Tigers reached the NCAA tournament in Martin’s first season and then went to the tournament again in 2021, but they failed to advance out of the first round in each.

This season, Missouri went 12-21 overall and 5-13 in SEC play. The Tigers’ season ended Thursday with a 76-68 loss to LSU in the SEC tournament. Missouri lost seven of its last nine games to end the season.

In five seasons, Martin went 78-77 overall.

“Coach Martin represented the university with an extremely high level of class and dignity,” said Missouri athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, who was hired by the school in August. “We are grateful for his contributions to our program, on and off the floor. He is not only a coach, but is a teacher, and he has impacted the lives of every student-athlete who came through the program over the last five years.”

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The firing may prove to be popular among Missouri fans that have pined for a winning program for years. But it was met with widespread scorn from the basketball community, and not just for what transpired on the court.

“I’ve got two adopted Black grandchildren, and I called him one day and said, help me through this. Tell me what I need to know as a grandfather,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said Friday night. “My daughter was having some issues that she wanted an answer to, and Cuonzo’s wife talked with my daughter, and so I look at him in a whole different light.”

Kansas coach Bill Self lamented another coaching change involving one of the Jayhawks’ biggest rivals. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber resigned on Thursday, though he likely would have been fired if he hadn’t stepped down.

“I know schools and businesses have to make decisions that are sometimes hard to make and are sometimes unpopular, or sometimes they do it because it is popular,” Self said, “but that’s two coaches in the last two days at our biggest rivals.

“I feel bad for Cuonzo. I think he’s a really good coach. I think he’s a better guy, and I’m sure he’ll land on his feet.”

Martin was hired following the failed three-year tenure of Anderson, promising to bring an exciting style of play along with high-level recruits. But most of those recruits, such as Michael Porter Jr., struggled with injuries and the pieces never seemed to come together in Columbia.

“Last game coaching? I’m good to go,” he said Thursday night. “I’m at peace with whatever. I don’t get consumed with that. I don’t worry about that. If that’s the best thing for both parties, then that’s the best thing for both parties. But I won’t waste any time with that. Whatever happens, happens.

“I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” Martin added, “but I have a tremendous peace of mind, and I’m going back to the hotel to relax with my family and then go from there.”

Martin certainly had support from many of his rival coaches, including South Carolina’s Frank Martin.

“Last time I checked they went to the NCAA tournament last year, if I’m not mistaken,” he said Thursday. “I don’t know what this business is coming to when men like him get questioned on what they can and can’t do, and get judged this year in this league coming off the year he had last year. We got major issues in this business if somebody that had that team top 20 in the country pretty much all season last year and went to the NCAA tournament (gets fired).

“When is the last time you read about Cuonzo Martin’s teams in any kind of negative connote?” Frank Martin continued. “When is the last time you read a player for Cuonzo Martin in any kind of negative connote? You’re not. He just came off an NCAA tournament, and people start talking like that? That’s sad. This business isn’t right if that’s the way we go.”

Martin led the program through widespread social unrest on campus, including protests during the Black Lives Matter movement that came to be defined by the football and basketball programs.

“Cuonzo is a stand-up guy, one of the best in our business. … Whether it’s on the court or away from the court, he is about social justice, making sure that he has a big voice, not only as a college basketball coach, but just as a Black man in America,” Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “He steps into the forefront a number of times when we’re dealing with a lot of stuff with George Floyd and everything that happened over the past couple of years. He has been one of those guys that is always leading the charge.”

Prior to taking over at Missouri, Martin spent three seasons at California, three seasons at Tennessee and three seasons at Missouri State. He went to a Sweet 16 with Tennessee in 2014 and made an NCAA tournament appearance with California in 2016. Martin also spent eight seasons as an assistant coach at Purdue.

The Tigers now have their fourth men’s basketball head-coaching search since 2011. Frank Haith and Anderson each lasted just three seasons, while Martin was in Columbia for five. Potential candidates expected to be involved, sources told ESPN, include Murray State’s Matt McMahon, Baylor assistant Jerome Tang, North Texas’ Grant McCasland and San Francisco’s Todd Golden.

The school hired Fogler Consulting to aid with the search.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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