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Be careful, UT fans — it's a lot easier to get rid of coaches than to build a winning team

You Say You Want a Revolution?

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Maybe it came as a surprise when Cuonzo Martin stealthily decamped from Knoxville to Berkeley, just weeks after leading Tennessee's basketball team to a surprising Sweet 16 appearance.

Certainly UT's athletic director Dave Hart seemed surprised — though perhaps that was because he was unaware a coach could leave a school without the latter having to pay the former a seven-figure buyout.

To say Vol fans never really warmed to Martin — who had the unenviable job of replacing the popular, ebullient, effusive, enthusiastic (and sanctioned) Bruce Pearl — is a understatement on the level of saying the Bolsheviks never really warmed to the Romanovs.

There was even a widely disseminated petition, sporting tens of thousands of signatures, nudging UT to can Cuonzo and throw a speculative cast at Pearl. Nary a whisper of that petition was heard after UT played into the NCAA's second weekend, of course, and the narrative was that Martin had saved his own job.

What Martin had actually done was auditioned for his next gig.

And that left Hart doing what he does with alarming frequency: leading a frazzled coaching search.

The Vols started down a familiar path by attempting to woo the coach from Louisiana Tech. This time the role of Derek Dooley was played by Michael White, who seemed well set to take the job — up until he actually met with UT officials and decided another few years in lovely, lively Ruston was a better life choice.

And who can blame him? Big Orange expectations are so hilariously outsized that nothing short of ... well, no one knows exactly what level of success will guarantee popularity at Thompson-Boling Arena, since much of Martin's last season saw him less popular than Geno Auremmia.

Eventually Hart got his man, plucking Donnie Tyndall from Southern Miss, a team that likely should have made the NCAA tournament this year. (Ironically, as one of the last teams in, the Vols benefited from the Golden Eagles' omission.)

UT very well may have stumbled upon the right man. The first choice isn't always the right one, and a great coach can emerge from a search gone awry — James Franklin, for example, wasn't Vandy's first choice when he was hired. But Dave Hart's fretful search for a replacement listed like a ship with a shattered rudder. Not only was he rejected by White, but Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart, one of the country's hottest young coaches, barely gave Tennessee the courtesy of sleeping on it before he rejected Hart.

All of this illustrates the dangers of calling too soon for a coach's head. Sometimes a fan base gets what it asks for.

Martin avoided the blade of the guillotine — though his execution had been stayed — by speeding through the night for the better clime and a warmer reception in California. Yet the radicals got what they wanted anyway. They aren't holding his head for the crowd to see, but the throne was empty nevertheless. And the result is the same: A fractious and flawed program jettisoned a coach whose successes failed to meet the demands of a loud collection of nothing-is-good-enoughs.

Change is often necessary. But when change is made when it's not, those calling for it learn a hard lesson passed down through history: A revolution is cheap and easy — but the task of finding what comes next rarely is.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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