BERKELEY — A more relaxed fan base, milder weather and a chance to coach at the top-rated public university in the country added up to Cuonzo Martin making the decision to leave Tennessee for California.
Cal hired Martin as the 16th men's basketball coach in school history Tuesday, a decision that stunned Volunteers administrators and players after he had reaffirmed his commitment to Tennessee just two weeks ago. Martin said it was a difficult move but the opportunity at Cal was too much to pass up.
"It's a beautiful place. I got off the plane and I just said, 'Ahhh,'" Martin said during his introductory news conference in Berkeley. "I think it has a chance to be special here. I think that's the most intriguing thing to me. It's a place I could spend the rest of my life."
Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said Martin's contract, which is still being finalized, is for five years. Financial details will be released at a later date.
Martin also said he will bring "quite a few" of his assistant coaches from Tennessee to Cal once his contract is complete.
Martin replaces Mike Montgomery, who retired last month after six seasons in Berkeley. Martin went 63-41 in three seasons at Tennessee, including a 24-13 mark and an appearance in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament this season. He also was previously the coach at Missouri State.
Martin succeeds one of the most successful college coaches in the history of the San Francisco Bay Area. Montgomery finished his career with a 677-317 record, having also spent 18 years at Stanford and eight at Montana.
Replacing a revered coach is nothing new for Martin.
Martin, a 42-year-old native of East Saint Louis, Illinois, took over a Tennessee program under NCAA investigation in 2011 and has averaged 21 wins per year. But, at times, he struggled to escape the shadow of former coach Bruce Pearl, who led the Volunteers to NCAA tournament appearances in each of his six years on the job.