TAMPA, Fla. — Cuonzo Martin will not return next season as the head coach of the Missouri men’s basketball program, a source told the Post-Dispatch Friday, the day after the Tigers’ season ended in Tampa, Florida, with a second-round loss in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Mizzou officially announced the decision Friday evening.
Martin, 50, leaves with a five-year record of 78-77, 35-53 in Southeastern Conference regular-season games and 3-4 in the SEC tournament. He was 0-2 in NCAA Tournament games, losing in the first round in 2018 and 2021. After a 20-13 debut season, Martin’s second and third teams finished just under .500 (15-17, 15-16) before last year’s turnaround season, when the Tigers started 13-3 and peaked at No. 10 in the national polls. But they collapsed down the stretch, losing seven of their final 10 games, leading to a drastic roster rebuild that never took shape as planned. The Tigers finished 12-21 this season, just the sixth 20-loss season in team history.
Search consultant Eddie Fogler, former head coach at South Carolina and Vanderbilt, will assist Mizzou in the national search for Martin’s replacement. MU athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois previously used the former coach’s firm, Fogler Consulting, when she hired TJ Otzelberger as the basketball coach at UNLV.
People are also reading…
“Coach Martin represented the University with an extremely high level of class and dignity”, MU athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois said in a statement. “He is a man of high character whom I have the utmost respect for, and we are grateful for his contributions to our program, on and off the floor. He is not only a coach, but is a teacher, and he has impacted the lives of every student-athlete who came through the program over the last five years. We wish him, Roberta, and their family nothing but the best in the future.”
“I believe that Mizzou is one of the best men’s basketball coaching jobs in the country,” she added. “Our University is the flagship institution of our great state and a member of the Southeastern Conference, the premier league in college athletics. We are located in a recruiting hotbed and there’s incredible alignment between our department and our President and Board of Curators. We have — and will —continue to invest in our men’s basketball program and I look forward to introducing the new leader of our program to our community in the near future. We will work quickly and expeditiously to find the candidate who is the best fit to continue building our championship culture.”
Martin, an East St. Louis native, has two years left on his original seven-year contract. By making the NCAA Tournament twice during his first four seasons, Martin triggered two clauses in his contract that prohibits Mizzou from firing him without cause until after April 30, 2022 and then owes him $6 million. The buyout total would have dropped to $3 million if MU fired Martin after April 30, 2023.
MU plans to fully honor the terms of Martin’s contract, which states that liquidated damages can be paid in equal monthly installments until April 30, 2024 or in a lump sum “as might be negotiated and agreed to by the parties.”
Potential candidates Mizzou could explore include North Texas’ Grant McCasland, Drake’s Darian DeVries, Murray State’s Matt McMahon, Cleveland State’s Dennis Gates, Baylor assistant Jerome Tang and former Mizzou player Kim English, in his first year as the head coach at George Mason.
This was Martin’s third losing season in five years at MU, but the Tigers were far closer to breaking even in the other two. The crowds at Mizzou Arena have become more sparse than usual as MU ranked 12th in attendance among SEC teams this season, averaging 6,600 fans per home game. In November, Martin signed his highest-rated recruit since his first few weeks on the job five years ago, but that wasn’t enough to inspire hope he could revive the program in the near future.
Instead, the Tigers will launch a fifth head-coaching search in the last 16 years, a turnstile that underscores the program’s failures to maintain any shred of success over the last two decades.
This time, though, its Reed-Francois’ coaching search, though the first-year athletics director will surely have strong input from powerful university system president Mun Choi, influential boosters and past and present members of the UM System Board of Curators, many of whom can’t help throw their weight around when it comes to important athletics department matters.
Another challenge for MU: This will be Mizzou’s first major athletics hire since the NCAA allowed immediate eligibility for transfers, as well as the name, image and likeness movement. That means current players and signed recruits could be prime for poaching. MU’s top two returning players, Kobe Brown and Trevon Brazile, have already been contacted by representatives of other schools, a source confirmed Friday, as well as four-star recruit Aidan Shaw, who signed with MU last fall.
Martin’s fifth season came undone early with a home loss to Kansas City — an ominous callback to former coach Kim Anderson’s first home game, another demoralizing loss to the Roos — then barely competitive efforts on the road against Liberty and Florida State. Before the calendar turned to 2022, the Tigers’ shortage of depth, talent and continuity were all exposed in blowout losses to Kansas, Illinois and Kentucky.