The case for Cuonzo

By @ScoopJardyn

In his most recent article, Clay Travis called for the head of Cuonzo Martin – urging the University of Tennessee to rehire Bruce Pearl. HA! Not on my watch! Oh, humble readers of Outkick, I urge you not to fall prey to the silver tongue of a notoriously gay muslim, as he spouts out his “statistics” and “facts.” ERRONEOUS I SAY! Take it from me Volunteer fans, Cuonzo Martin will win you a championship.

You see, while Bruce Pearl was taking Tennessee to these so called “NCAA tournaments,” Cuonzo Martin was busy building a powerhouse in south Missouri…Yeah, you may have heard a bit about the prestigious Missouri State Bears. Oh, Bruce Pearl and Tennessee went to the “Sweet 16?” Cuonzo took Missouri State to the big dance known as the “CIT” – ever heard of it? Ha! Childs play! And guess what, only 16 teams are even invited to that hoe down! So yeah, you could say that the CIT 16 is even sweeter.

I mean, you wanna talk numbers Travis? In his first year at MSU, Cuonzo led the Bears to a 10th place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference. Sure, there were only 10 conference members – BUT WE’RE TALKIN MO VALLEY HERE! This ain’t no “SEC” slumdog league. Cuonzo was doin battle with the big dogs like Bradley, Drake, and Evansville, night in and night out. GET YOU SOME! The best part of Cuonzo establishing Missouri State as one of the upper echelon programs in the country? That’s right, I was there to witness it in person – and do you know what Cuonzo personally told me?

“We will win a championship.”

I shit you not. Cuonzo Martin said that exact sentence…out loud…while wearing a Missouri State polo...and he was serious. The intro to this is satirical – but that quote, and the rest of this story, is true.

From 2009-2011, I was enrolled at Missouri State. In the second semester of 2010, I was taking a journalism class and one of our projects required us to attend a sporting event and write a follow up. Let me be perfectly candid - I am a basketball fanatic. I love playing basketball, and I love watching good basketball. The key word in that last sentence is “good.” This is a word that is very rarely associated with Missouri State basketball – so I had attended a grand total of zero games before my journalism project arose, but I figured, it can’t be that bad! Besides, what other Missouri State sport could I write an article on in January?

The game went probably exactly how you would expect – Missouri State verus Northern Iowa = lots of big, slow white guys bumbling up and down the court. Textbook Cuonzo offense. Slllllowwwww. Value each possession. Work the shot clock. No fast breaks. There were specific moments where a guard would leak out after a UNI shot and was literally wide open for a pass ahead and layup – but Cuonzo forced the team to slow it down and “run the offense.” I genuinely thought the ball may have been flat. It was painful to watch. The score reflected the slow style of play, as MSU fell to UNI 54-55. But then, I got to use my press pass!

Who knew that a piece of paper with my name scribbled on it, spelled incorrectly, and a piece of yarn would give me so much power! Such access! With my press pass around my neck, I proudly marched down stairs and through doors of JQH Arena to the room where post game interviews were being conducted. I entered the room to find a number of tables and chairs, all facing one long table on a stage, with Cuonzo Martin and three Missouri State players firmly planted behind it. As a player finished answering a question, I quietly set my phone on the podium to record, and sat down at a table amidst the other reporters to take notes and listen. 

The player finished his answer.

The moderator asked for another question.

A reporter stated his credentials…then asked Coach Cuonzo something along the lines of: You lost this game, but still have a chance to make the tournament. What are your thoughts moving forward?

The answer to this question is one of the same stupid sports cliché answers that fit with any stupid reporter question. Take it one game at a time. Keep working and improving. Blah blah blah. However, Cuonzo opted for a less-cliché, very surprising answer – one that would cause me to laugh out loud, and in turn cause him to give me the stink eye. It went like so…

“Richard Dickburger here, Springfield Gazette. Coach, you lost this game, but the Bears still have a chance to make the tournament. What are your thoughts moving forward?”

Cuonzo’s face immediately shows that he does not like the question. In disgust, he mutters something along the lines of, “We’re not here to make the tournament. We’re here to win. And we will win." There is a distinct sternness in his voice, and he continues with his authoritative response.

The room is silent as Martin leans forward to look directly at the reporters, indicating his seriousness. Cuonzo Martin then says either the ballsiest, or the stupidest thing that any Missouri State coach has ever muttered. And he says it loud. And he pauses and emphasizes each syllable. “We will - win a championship here!”

After hearing the phrase my body lets out a loud, short, involuntary scoff/laugh. Imagine the noise you make when you start to take a drink, but some of the liquid goes down the wrong pipe. Your body automatically does a quick, short, sneeze/cough thing. That’s the noise my body makes when Cuonzo Martin says that Missouri State will win a championship. And I swear – I had no control over it.

As soon as the noise comes out in that silent room full of reporters, I realize how audible and obvious it was. Cuonzo Martin stops mid sentence and turns his eyes towards me. As his glare beams down upon me, the reporters and staff sitting in front of me all follow his eyes and turn their heads to face me – and everyone in that stupid press room gives me the stink eye… instigated by Cuonzo Martin.

At this point I don’t know whether to just get up and leave, or just stare down at my notepad and ignore the death glares. So I do the only thing I can think of to try and weasel out of the situation – by asking a follow up question: “Do you mean Missouri Valley Championship or National Championship?”

With eyes still on me, Cuonzo simply repeats his previous statement, perhaps even more boldly, if possible. “I came here to win. We will win a championship here!” It wasn’t really an answer to my question, but after reiterating his message, the attention in the room slowly moves away from me and back to the podium, where a new topic arises and the rest of the post game interviews continue. As the process goes along, various players and members of the media sporadically glance over towards me. I keep my focus down on my blank notebook trying to appear calm while inside, I’m laughing hysterically. Finally, the session appears to be wrapping up, so to avoid any more awkwardness, I calmly pick up my notebook and phone, and make a beeline for the exit.

Well I’ll be damned if Cuonzo didn’t make good on his promise. The Bears finished their season 24-12, concluding with a win over Pacific to claim the championship title for the College Insider Tournament. They did technically win a championship. 

In conclusion, Clay Travis is correct. Tennessee needs to make a change. Martin compiled a 61-41 record in three years at Missouri State, including a CIT Championship and a second round NIT exit. But expectations at MSU are low. With a much higher talent level at Tennessee, and the diminishing level of SEC competition – Martin should have yielded better results by now.

Cuonzo Martin is not the answer for Tennessee. Unless the question is “can we win a championship?” In that case the answer is yes, but it’s probably not the championship you had in mind. 

Cuonzo Martin. 2010 CIT Champion. Forever.

Written by
Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021. One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines. Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide. Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports. Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.