COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri basketball has moved into the Cuonzo Martin era.
The school announced Wednesday it was hiring the former California coach, making him the 19th coach in program history. Martin will be introduced on campus at 4 p.m. Monday.
“We are thrilled that Cuonzo is returning to the Midwest and that his family will now call Columbia home,” Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk said in a press release. “From the outset of our search, our goal was to find a coach who had demonstrated success, academically and on the court, while also sharing our values and who can help to reignite interest in Mizzou Men’s Basketball among our fan base. I believe we found all of that and more with Cuonzo.”
The 45-year old Martin will take over for Kim Anderson, who was fired after going 27-68 in three seasons at the helm.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello reported that Missouri will give Martin a seven-year deal worth more than $21 million. An MU spokesperson said the school will make his contract details public Monday.
Martin has coached at California since 2015. He previously coached at Tennessee from 2012-14 and at Missouri State from 2009-11. His career record is 186-120, which includes two NCAA Tournament appearances.
Missouri has never brought on a coach with more Division I wins at the time of hiring.
“He’ll get it done,” Missouri State Athletic Director Kyle Moats said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll get it done. He’s got that ‘it’ factor that kids believe and trust and parents believe and trust. They’re going to work hard there, and they’ll get it done. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s won.”
Martin is Jim Sterk’s first hire as the AD at Missouri. The announcement ended a 10-day search.
His final season with Cal ended Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT. The top-seeded Golden Bears fell to No. 8 seed Cal State-Bakersfield 73-66.
For Martin – who grew up in the projects in East St. Louis, Ill. – Wednesday’s announcement was the latest chapter in a dramatic basketball career.
“I think they ought to make a movie out of him,” said Gene Keady, Martin’s coach at Purdue from 1991-95.
The Boilermakers took a chance on Martin despite his history of chronic knee problems. Keady said they were “bone-on-bone” when he arrived.
“It was unbelievable how he got well and how he came around and became a great player,” Keady said. “He just had a great work ethic and great attitude about life. He just kept going and going and going and working hard.”
After leading Purdue to the Elite Eight as a junior and earning All-Big Ten honors as a junior, Martin was selected in the second round of the NBA draft in 1995.
“He was the best leader I ever had,” said Keady, who coached 27 seasons at Purdue and Western Kentucky. “He’d be upset with certain players and he’d run by the bench and say, ‘Get him out of here, Coach, he’s not helping us.’ Then he’d go and get the kid and usually tell him, ‘Here’s what we gotta have to win.’ He didn’t do it in a derogatory way. He was just a good leader.”
Martin played in the NBA from 1995-97 and in Europe from 1997-98, but non-Hodgkin lymphoma ended his playing career. A year of treatment put the cancer in remission, and Martin returned to the game as an assistant coach under Keady at Purdue. He spent seven seasons there before Missouri State hired him to lead its program in 2008.
His first season in Springfield was a shock to the system. Missouri State went 11-20 — posting a 3-15 mark in the Missouri Valley Conference — which was the program’s worst season since 1981.
“One thing that stood out early on was his practices and his conditioning programs were much more demanding than what” Missouri State “had been used to under Barry Henson,” said Lyndal Scranton, who covered Martin’s Bears for the Springfield News-Leader. “Kind of a no-nonsense guy who demanded toughness.”
The Bears improved dramatically in Martin’s second season, going 24-12 overall and 8-10 in the league before winning the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament, the program’s first postseason title since winning the NAIA national championship in 1953.
In his third year, Missouri State finished 26-9 and won its first-ever MVC regular-season title with a 15-3 conference record. It qualified for the NIT, where it lost to Murray State in the first round.
Martin took over at Tennessee in 2012 after Bruce Pearl’s resignation. He was 63-41 with the Volunteers, including 32-20 in the Southeastern Conference, and led Tennessee to the Sweet 16 in his only NCAA Tournament bid with the school in 2015.
At Cal, Martin started slow – going 18-15 and missing the postseason in his first season – but attracted star talent from near and far. Oakland native Ivan Rabb and Marietta, Ga., native Jaylen Brown, both five-star recruits, headlined the Class of 2015 and led the Golden Bears to a 23-11 season in 2015-16. Cal was a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament but was upset by Hawaii in the first round.
The Golden Bears appeared to be on track to make the NCAA Tournament this season, but Cal lost five of its final six games in the regular season and missed the field. Its final record was 21-13.
Martin’s hire also reintroduced the Porter family back into the Missouri basketball fold. Washington fired Coach Lorenzo Romar shortly after Martin was hired Wednesday afternoon, which ended the Porter family’s personal connections to the school.
Reports emerged Wednesday evening that Martin had hired Michael Porter Sr., who was an assistant under Romar at Washington last season, to his staff at Missouri. However, a source told the Tribune that Porter Sr. had not committed to a position with the Tigers as of Wednesday evening.
With or without the Porters, Martin will have immediate work to do at Missouri, which has only one player – North Richland Hills, Texas, guard C.J. Roberts – signed and two scholarships available for the Class of 2017.