New Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin: 'This is it for me'
It’s Cuonzo’s house now.
Missouri formally introduced its new men’s basketball coach — former Missouri State, Tennessee and California coach Cuonzo Martin — on Monday at press conference inside Mizzou Arena.
More than a dozen of Martin’s family members joined several hundred Tigers fans for what amounted to an hour-long group hug.
“This is a special day for me,” Martin said in his opening remarks. “It just feels like home. This is one of those days, as you begin your coaching career, you start thinking ‘Will I ever get a chance to coach at a place like Mizzou?’ Now, to be at home just up I-70, is a tremendous feeling.”
And Martin, who signed a seven-year contract worth $21 million plus incentives Wednesday, made it clear he hopes to remain at Mizzou.
“If Mizzou keeps me for 20 years, then it’s my plan to be here for 20 years,” he said. “This is it for me. … These are always emotional decisions, but I felt like this was the right decision. I pray and hope that this is my last decision.”
For first-year Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk, who announced March 5 that he’d asked former coach Kim Anderson to step down, the decision to hire Martin was an easy one.
Sterk said Monday that he zeroed in on Martin from the beginning of the search. He and executive associate athletic director Brian White flew to Oakland, Calif., on March 12 to meet with Martin.
“Going in, I thought he was (the top choice),” Sterk said. “Afterward, (that meeting) validated what I thought.”
Sterk wanted to attract a coach with “passion, integrity and experience,” someone who would resonate with high school coaches statewide and do so with unimpeachable character.
“Anyone I spoke to (about Martin) talked about integrity, character, work ethic and all of those things,” Sterk said. “That stood out to me, and I was impressed with that. … People just respect him a lot. No one has anything bad to say about Cuonzo Martin.”
During nine seasons as a head coach, Martin is 186-121 with a Missouri Valley Conference championship at Missouri State in 2011, a Sweet 16 appearance with Tennessee in 2014 and two postseason berths at California.
Martin spent three years at each stop, posting back-to-back 20-win seasons and improving his overall winning percentage at each successive job with seven total postseason appearances.
The hiring was cheered in Birmingham, Ala., as well.
“Kim Anderson did a really good job in a difficult time here,” said SEC associate commissioner for basketball Dan Leibowitz, who attended Martin’s press conference. “I know that’s been talked about a great bit, but it seemed to be time maybe for a change. To see Cuonzo, at first it was amazement, thinking, ‘Wow, that could really happen. That would be perfect.’ So, we’re thrilled.”
So were the Tigers’ players.
“I have faith in coach Martin,” sophomore forward and Blue Springs South graduate Kevin Puryear said. “I think this is going to be an exciting time for Mizzou basketball. … He’s so cool and collected. I can tell he doesn’t get rattled. I’m really just excited to play for him.”
While at Tennessee, Martin recruited junior forward Jordan Barnett, and he went after sophomore guard Terrence Phillips during his tenure at Cal. Both were happy with the hire.
“We all have a new slate here,” Martin said. “I don’t know what the record was last year (8-24). I don’t know what happened last year … (but) I’m not in the business of waiting three or four years.”
With his trademark defensive toughness, which Martin learned under Gene Keady at Purdue but first began to appreciate watching Norm Stewart’s teams, the hope is for a speedy turnaround.
Sterk hired Martin, because he’s convinced the St. Louis native — who played prep basketball at Lincoln High in East St. Louis, Ill., before playing at Purdue and professionally — can develop a championship program at Mizzou.
Martin also is optimistic.
“I don’t think there’s anything that Mizzou’s lacking,” he said. “We have everything to be very successful. I think we have everything to be the last team standing one day, and that’s my goal.”
The hardwood floor still says Norm Stewart Court, but “Cuonzo, this is your house now,” interim Missouri chancellor Hank Foley said, “ … and we’re looking forward to filling this house.”
Martin will be joined in Columbia by his wife, Roberta, and two of the couple’s three children, Chase and Addison, after the school year.
The Martins’ oldest son, Joshua, attends Purdue.
As for his staff, Martin said he’s yet to make any decisions, but he’ll have discussions with his current assistants — associate head coach Tracy Webster along with assistants Wyking Jones and Tim O’Toole — soon.
He declined to address speculation about the possible addition of former Mizzou women’s assistant and Washington men’s assistant Michael Porter Sr., who reportedly has been offered a job.
Asked about the rumored return of the Porter family, including 2017 top prospect Michael Porter Jr., to Columbia, Cuonzo smiled: “I think the Columbia community wants to be successful.”