Cuonzo Martin is leaving California, either for the greener currency and greater term (seven years) at Missouri. He wasted fewer than 15 hours since the Golden Bears’ embarrassing NIT beating by Cal State Bakersfield to tell his players he’s three and done.
Three, as in years, making Martin the shortest tenured coach in 97 at Berkeley and abruptly ending a stage in his career that never quite fit anyone right.
Martin’s last act, if it is such, was watching his team lay down against Cal State Bakersfield in the first round of the NIT Tuesday night. Without Ivan Rabb (knee/NIT-it is) or Jabari Bird (concussion), their fleeting incentive against the Jackrabbits fled, and they went down with a thudding bad-jumper-laden ignominy.
But Martin was never an entirely cheery fit in Berkeley anyway. Between the school’s initial reluctance to give a formalized contract (he finally got one, and then an extension that takes him to 2020-21), and the general lack of atmospherics around the program despite three consecutive winning seasons, his time has been (on the verge of was) less than electric.
When compared to his essentially laudatory character and work improving the program’s academic profile, that would seem only mildly relevant, but at Cal, where the financial wolf always seems to be in close proximity to the door, deep tournament runs and a powerhouse football program would seem to be more necessity than luxury.
And the truth is that Martin needed a greater sense of surety than Cal could provide, and Cal needed that cash-fueled electricity – electricity that the successful recruitment of Rabb and Jaylen Brown (a one-and-done now with the Boston Celtics) couldn’t seem to accomplish. Martin’s 62-39 record in three years is leavened by first round losses in each of the past two seasons, to Hawaii in NCAA Tournament in 2016 and Tuesday night, and both years the customers expected more. Expectations, after all, remain undefeated no matter where you go.
The alternate truth is that Missouri, which just canned Kim Anderson after the three worst years in half a century of Missouri basketball is a qualitatively and quantitatively better job with higher energy levels and expectation demands.
Cal athletic director Mike Williams said in the school press release that Martin had “a strong desire to move closer to home,” and while that could be either his childhood home in East St. Louis, his coaching home in Missouri or his last job at Tennessee (the Southeastern Conference), the money is also reportedly much better – perhaps by as much as 50 percent.
That he didn’t engage Cal about a potential extension is an indication that he (a) either knew that a year after his last one he was probably not going to get it, or more likely (b) that he just wanted out despite having four more years on his current contract.
In other words, there are jobs and then there are jobs, and in the college basketball diaspora, Cal is mostly just another job – successful, but not successful enough to change the school’s essential football-first profile or the area’s pro-sport-first profile. And while Cal has to figure out how to get around UCLA, Oregon and Arizona, Missouri has to figure out how to get around Kentucky, which has the strength of three programs on its own.
And in other other words, there are contracts and there are contracts. Cal is still not a high profile revenue generator as major programs go, and has been debt-strapped for years now. Missouri, on the other hand, essentially emptied out for Martin, and that talks just as loud.
His legacy? A .613 winning percentage, two postseason losses (Hawaii in the NCAAs a year ago and the CS Bakersfield debacle), two five-star recruits that could have changed the program, and a legacy of incompleteness that reveals Cal’s essential big-time-athletics flaw.
There are at least 50 athletics programs which are much bigger, and that is not likely to ever change.