Should Vols Match Marquette’s Offer for Cuonzo Martin?

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As Cuonzo Martin weighs an offer to become Marquette’s next coach, Tennessee has an interesting decision to make, should they match whatever Marquette is offering or take Martin’s buyout and go hire a new coach? Right now Martin makes $1.3 million a year and has two years remaining on his Tennessee contract. Tomorrow Martin’s buyout drops from $2.6 million to $1.3 million. If Martin leaves, it would probably be announced tomorrow because that saves Marquette over a million dollars in buyout money.

So what’s Cuonzo worth on the open market? You have to assume that Marquette is willing to offer him around $2 million a year. Reports are that Marquette was paying Buzz Williams $2.8 million a year, but Williams was willing to take half a million less a year to leave for Virginia Tech. Why? Because he wasn’t that excited about the future of the newly revamped Big East, a league that has much more in common with the Atlantic 10 than it does the ACC.

So if Cuonzo’s got an offer of around $2 million a year from Marquette, should Tennessee match it? Or should the Vols take the $1.3 million buyout and go try and hire someone else?

Pretend you’re athletic director Dave Hart and faced with this decision. What would you do?

Let’s begin by looking at the 25 highest paid basketball coaches in the country. (Some of the data is from, but I’ve updated it to reflect recent hires). 

1. Coach K, Duke

$7.2 million

2. John Calipari, Kentucky 

$5.4 million

3. Rick Pitino, Louisville

$5.1 million

4. Bill Self, Kansas

$5 million

5. Tom Izzo, Michigan State

$3.75 million

6. Billy Donovan, Florida

$3.7 million

7. Thad Matta, Ohio State

$3.2 million

8. Tom Crean, Indiana

$2.9 million

9. Josh Pastner, Memphis

$2.65 million

10. Steve Alford, UCLA

$2.6 million

11. Sean Miller, Arizona

$2.5 million

12. Rick Barnes, Texas

$2.4 million

12. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

$2.4 million

14. Jay Wright, Villanova

$2.3 million

14. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech

$2.3 million

14. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State

$2.3 million

14. Bruce Pearl, Auburn

$2.3 million

18. John Thompson, Georgetown

$2.2 million

18. Mike Anderson, Arkansas

$2.2 million

20. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

$2.1 million

21. Mark Gottfried, N.C. State

$1.95 million

22. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt 

$1.93 million

23. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

$1.9 million

23. John Beilein, Michigan

$1.9 million

25. Anthony Grant, Alabama

$1.85 million

25. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

$1.85 million

Unlike in football, where coaches make massive amounts of money, if you’re willing to pay $2.5 million a year you’re paying top ten in the country salary. (You have to pay over $4 million to be top ten in the country for college football).

If Marquette’s offer to Cuonzo Martin is in the neighborhood of $2 million, then they’re paying him as a top twenty coach in the country. If you’re Dave Hart do you believe that Cuonzo Martin is a top twenty coach in the country? Other than Anthony Grant, is there anyone that you’d definitely put Cuonzo in front of? Sure, you can make arguments that Cuonzo is better than Mark Gottfried — although Gottfried has been to the NCAA tourney eight of his last ten years coaching — and I’d rather have Cuonzo than Kevin Stallings, who I think is the most overrated coach in the country, but outside of those two can you make an argument for Cuonzo over any of the other guys on this list? 

I don’t think so. (Although, you can definitely take Cuonzo over Josh Pastner given the salary. $2.65 million?! That’s insane. The guy’s won two tourney games ever.)

That’s especially the case when you consider that Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and VCU’s Shaka Smart aren’t even in the top 25. Would anyone take Martin over both of these guys right now? I wouldn’t. If, perchance, Tennessee let Martin go and then offered Gregg Marshall, who has twice interviewed for the Tennessee job and grew up in the South, $2.5 million a year, would anyone not think that the Vols traded up? Especially given that $1.3 million of that money would be coming from Marquette? It seems to me like Marquette’s desperate to get a name that their fan’s recognize and they’re overpaying. Remember that last season Hart declined to give Cuonzo an extension or raise. If the Vols lose to Iowa in the play-in game, is Hart firing Martin?

Here’s the other thing, does Cuonzo even want to leave or is he just flashing the coaching leg to try and get Tennessee to match Marquette’s offer? Remember, Buzz Williams just bailed on Marquette to take much less money to coach at Virginia Tech. What does Buzz know about the new Big East that made him willing to leave for a mediocre ACC job? Tennessee’s a better job right now than Marquette is. Would Cuonzo really leave a better job in a fit of anger because Vol fans, rightly, would prefer to have Bruce Pearl coach than him? That’s not an indictment of Cuonzo, he’s just no Pearl.

Cuonzo’s a good guy, but his lack of recruiting success in the past four years could begin to bite him big time next year when he’s got complete control of the roster. Assuming that Jarnell Stokes leaves, over 85% of Tennessee’s rebounding and scoring is departing. Through four recruiting classes, Martin has signed just two four stars or better — Jarnell Stokes, who Bruce Pearl and his staff had done most of the work recruiting, and Robert Hubbs — a freshman shooting guard who was injured this year. Otherwise he’s signed all two and three star players. That’s fine if you develop those players into solid starters, but thus far only Josh Richardson is a true diamond in the rough. The other players are just rough. 

So if you’re Dave Hart, what’s a Sweet 16 run worth? What’s Cuonzo Martin’s value to you? It’s a business decision, do you match what Marquette offered or let him leave, take the buyout, and go hire a new coach?

It’s a fascinating decision.

So you’re the AD, what do you do?

Personally, I let Cuonzo walk, take the buyout, and go hire a new coach.  

Written by Clay Travis

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.