Cuonzo Martin intent on staying put at Missouri

The new Missouri men’s basketball coach said in his introductory press conference that he plans to stay long-term with the Tigers.
New men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin is introduced.

New Missouri men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin’s energy was completely different from that of the Mizzou Arena crowd Monday.

The pep band played Missouri favorites such as the alma mater and the Missouri Waltz. Fans filled the stands that often sat empty a month earlier. Smiling faces beamed throughout the arena. Emcee Mike Kelly riled up the fans by highlighting recent Tigers’ success.

Then Martin walked in.

As the fans applauded and hollered in approval of the man of the hour, Martin nonchalantly glided across the stage with a miniscule grin on his face. When he spoke minutes later, Martin seemed as relaxed as if he was speaking to friends in his living room. He was not particularly animated.

But the aspirations he articulated in his speech were anything but bland. While meeting Tiger fans in his introductory press conference, Martin said he is equipped with everything he needs to win a national championship at Missouri, where he plans to settle in.

It’s that demeanor that stood out to Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk when he searched for a new head coach.

“He gives you that serious, serious look, but inside he is a teddy bear,” Sterk said. “You think of this guy … he is 6-foot-6, impressive and intense, but he has a great heart. He cares about family and he cares about the kids.”

It was not only Martin’s heart but also his passion, integrity and experience which put him at the top of Sterk’s list.

“Cuonzo has been molded by his challenges each step of his life, strengthened, prepared and experienced to lead this storied basketball program in our history,” Sterk said.

Martin highlighted the history of the program early on in his opening statement. He said he grew up watching Missouri basketball as a child nearby in East St. Louis.

“Norm Stewart was one of my favorites,” Martin said. “I always watched my three favorites: Norm Stewart, Gene Keady and Jim Calhoun, because I felt like those guys were tough, hard-nosed, they demand a lot of their players, they worked extremely hard, and competed at a high level,” Martin said.

Martin mentioned his excitement to have the opportunity to coach on the Norm Stewart Court, where he wants to put out a product worth watching. Martin said things that need to improve include confidence, size, strength and speed. He does not expect that to take long, though.

“We have a chance to be successful, and I am not in the business of waiting three or four years,” Martin said.

It will also require retooling through recruits. Martin hinted that he plans to explore recruiting athletes around the world.

“Mizzou is not just a national brand; it is a world brand,” Martin said.

Current Tigers players spoke to Martin’s recruiting on Monday. Junior Jordan Barnett and sophomore Terrence Phillips each knew Martin previously and spoke highly of interactions they had with Martin when he recruited them coming out of high school.

Phillips found out about the hire on Twitter, and two hours later, he received a phone call from an Oakland area code.

“I knew exactly who it was, and I was very excited,” Phillips said.

Although many Missouri fans share the same sentiment as Phillips, some fans such as Bob Allen and Ron McCanless, who drove two and a half hours to attend Monday’s press conference, are being cautiously optimistic.

Allen and McCanless, who graduated from Missouri in 1960, are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I like his credentials, but it is kind of one of those things where you have to prove to me you can do it,” McCanless said.

Allen said he thinks Martin is “going to be OK,” but he expressed concern about Martin’s tendency to move on after three years. Martin has done that in all three of his head coaching jobs so far.

Martin said that won’t be the case with Missouri, an opportunity he described as one couldn’t pass up.

“If Mizzou keeps me for 20 years, then it is my plan to be here for 20 years,” Martin said. “This is it for me.”

And based on his comments Monday, Martin plans to make the most out of his time at Missouri.

“I think we have everything we need to be the last team standing one day, and that’s my goal,” Martin said.

If a national championship team needs a serious coach with a teddy bear demeanor, the Tigers found their guy.

“Anyone I spoke to really talked about the character, work ethic, all of those things stood out to me,” Sterk said.

Financial details of Martin’s contract

Martin signed a seven-year contract for $21 million to coach the Tigers, per a release from Mizzou Athletics.

It’s the largest contract ever for a Missouri men’s basketball coach.

Although a seven-year contract sets a new precedent for Missouri, Sterk said it was necessary because of the marketplace changing and evolving.

“I laid it out to the Board of Curators: If we want an experienced coach from a Power Five program, we are going to have to do this,” Sterk said.

Martin can earn up to $605,000 in incentives. If Martin leads Missouri to a national championship, he will earn an additional $200,000. If he wins National Coach of the Year, Martin will earn an additional $50,000.

Martin has $1.1 million to hire his staff. A typical staff would include three assistants, a strength and conditioning coach, and a director of video operations. Martin can allocate this money however he would like, though.

Missouri will compensate the University of California for the buyout provisions in Martin’s previous contract. If Martin were to leave Missouri after three seasons like he has in previous jobs, he would owe $5 million to Missouri by terms of the buyout after that third season. The buyout amount — the amount of money Martin owes MU if he leaves before his contract expires — decreases the further Martin goes into his contract.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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