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April 15, 2014

Hart cites 'distractions' in Martin's exit

The math was pretty simple. Stay and get a half million dollar raise and a two year extension or leave and pay $1.3 million to depart. According to Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart, Cuonzo Martin's decision to stay or leave was never about the digits.

"One man's opinion, I don't think Cuonzo's decision was driven by numbers or was driven by necessarily number of years," Hart said.

"It was a tough year. I don't want to speak for Cuonzo but it was a tough year. It was a tough year for Cuonzo and Roberta. There were a lot of distractions. You know what they were. You reported on them. It was pretty tough for those young men and I have talked with them. They have made unsolicited comments as the year progressed as to how tough it was."

Those comments continued via social media Tuesday with tweets from former Vols Jarnell Stokes, Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon. Maymon tweeted 'it was only a matter of time' when news broke of Martin's departure. McRae tweeted, 'can't treat people any kind of way and expect good in return.'

Martin became a lightening rod among Tennessee fans following disappointing losses to teams like Texas A&M as well as the growing thought of the possible return of Bruce Pearl - a thought that never had any basis of reality. As the Vols continued their run through the tournament Martin and his players didn't dismiss the distractions.

"Cuonzo said it and he meant it, we have a phenomenal fan base," Hart said in a quickly assembled Tuesday afternoon press conference. "You've heard me say this many times, give me the passion. We have a very passionate fan base. Can passion sometimes be misdirected? Sure it can at times. But we're very blessed with a passionate fan base."

Some donors called Hart to express their desire to have Pearl return to the sidelines. Some 36,000 people signed an on-line petition for Pearl's return. Hart and the Tennessee brass never publicly addressed the Pearl topic. When asked on Tuesday if he had addressed it privately with Martin, Hart would not comment specifically but expressed their open conversations.

"Well, I would not share conversations that I've had with any coaches," Hart said. "We had a great relationship and we had a very open relationship and the dialogue was very consistent. We talked about everything. Good, bad, indifferent. And that's what you should have. And that's what you should have in terms of AD to coach dialogue."

Hart was asked on two more separate occasions in his 15 minute press conference if he was searching for a new coach because of the distractions or heat created by the fan base. Hart would not comment saying he had too much respect for Martin to speak for him. But Hart did make it clear that the distractions of this past year and whatever perception it might create would not be any kind of deterrent in hiring a new coach to run his program.

"I think this is an extremely attractive job," Hart said. "We have history. We have tradition. We have one of the finest venues in the country to play college basketball so I'm not concerned about that.

"I don't have any concern about that being a problem [selling the program]."

Whether it will be or won't be remains to be seen, but it could mean bigger math numbers for Hart in securing a head coach who has a track record that Hart wants him to have on his resume.


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