At a hastily called press conference on Tuesday, University of Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart said that he had offered former men's basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin a $500,000 raise and a two-year contract extension when the team returned home from the NCAA tournament. Though Hart said he didn't give Martin a deadline for an answer to the offer, the coach's sudden decision to join the California Golden Bears was still a "surprise."
Hart only alluded to the online petition to replace Martin with former coach Bruce Pearl, rolling it into the "distractions" he said had caused some difficulty for Martin this season. However, Hart did say that the UT fan base is extremely passionate. "Can that passion be misdirected sometimes? Sure," he said, though he stopped short of saying the fans had anything to do with Martin's departure. "I have too much respect for Cuonzo to speak for Cuonzo."
The search for a new coach will start immediately, Hart said. The department will look nationwide for coaches with winning records. Whoever is hired will also have to be a great recruiter, he added, since "recruiting is our lifeblood."
Hart said he has reached out to the four high schoolers who have committed to play for UT, and he expects them all to play for the Vols despite Martin's move (though at least one has already decided to follow Martin). He also said he hasn't had any discussions with any team members about leaving the team to follow Martin.