In the most deliciously ironic coaching carousel ride in some time, the University of Tennessee, both fan base and athletic department, somehow managed to get what they no longer wanted and exactly what they deserved.
Cuonzo Martin, the man they treated like a bad case of the flu for three years, essentially put his thumb to his nose, wiggled his fingers and said, "Stuff it." He is off to the greener, more welcoming pastures of Cal while Tennessee is left with a bare cupboard, no coach and, worst of all, the coach it longed for now working down the SEC road at Auburn.
Using Grinchian vernacular, Martin even took the Who Hash. Seven-foot-1 center prospect Kingsley Okoroh, who committed to UT on Monday, tweeted within an hour of Martin’s departure that he, too, was off to Berkeley.
The Volunteers, apparently, would have been wise to look at the fine print when Martin said, upon removing himself from the Marquette search that, "Tennessee is where I want to be. That has never changed."
He made those remarks, after all, on April Fools' Day.
And now the joke is on Tennessee.
Or the joke is Tennessee. Take your pick. Both are applicable.
The school is now on its third basketball coach in four years, to partner with the four football coaches it’s hired in the past six seasons.
No one will argue that Tennessee is a plum job -- one currently unemployed coach called me within an hour of the opening to inquire about it -- but the administration and fan base are doing a helluva job turning Knoxville into a reality show.
This is now a place that has been jilted by both Lane Kiffin and Martin.
Except when Kiffin left, his players were furious.
When Martin hit the road, Jordan McRae took to social media: “Can’t treat people any kind of way and expect good in return,” he wrote.
No you cannot. Even in this weird, morally challenged world, the golden rule does still have some teeth. You can’t spend three years making a man feel like an unwanted interim coach and then, once he reaches the Sweet 16, expect him to return the warm and phony embrace.
Less than a month ago, 36,000 fans signed a petition to get rid of Martin and return Bruce Pearl to glory. Never mind the fact Martin spent his entire tenure trying to extricate the Vols from the NCAA crater that Pearl had dug them. Pearl was Pearl -- gregarious and fun, with an up-and-down style and he still lived in Knoxville.
In the days before the Sweet 16 game -- and after Pearl signed with Auburn -- came another petition. This one was aimed at getting Martin a raise, complete with an open apology for the first petition.
Prior to today's news conference, called after Martin already had left, Hart had given and offered Martin one measly raise -- $50,000 last year. That bumped Martin’s overall salary to $1.35 million, 11th in the 14-member SEC.
And then when the Vols thumped Mercer to go to the regional semifinal, there was Hart embracing Martin on the court.
Didn’t work for Judas.
Won’t work here.
Vols fans, no doubt, will say that Cal will fail and good riddance and that’s fine. Hell hath no fury like a fan base scorned.
And that’s OK, too.
But remove the anger and what you see is a coach who was far from an epic failure. He went 63-41 in his three seasons, finishing in the top five of the SEC in each season.
This despite the stain and strain of NCAA sanctions.
In a lot of places that would merit a raise, a contract extension and a heap of praise.
At Tennessee, it got Martin a heap of nothing. Impatient fans and lukewarm administrators never really gave Martin a chance -- Indiana fans, with a bit more basketball dog in the fight, gave Tom Crean a longer leash.
And now the Vols got what they stopped wanting and exactly what they deserved.