Cuonzo Martin’s abrupt rocky-top exodus on the heels of the Sweet 16 is a tough blow for Tennessee Athletics. It’s bad from a personnel standpoint, obviously, and yet another spill in the PR aisle for the already unsanitary Volunteer Athletic Department as well as the Paid Athletic Department.
While the University of Tennessee is unquestionably a Women’s Basketball School, it does boast a large, fervent fan base and an athletic department with deep pockets. There was once a decent football team here they say, way back before such esteemed gridiron names as Kiffin and Dooley…’s idiot children were paid millions to roam the sideline.
Heck, even the men’s basketball team had a few good runs. There was the Bert & Ernie Show, and Jerry Green cobbled together a couple decent squads thanks to strong chemistry formed by players who never ran out of eligibility. And of course Bruce Pearl rallied the Vols all the way to the midseason AP Poll summit and an Elite 8 before his run in Knoxville went up in weed and barbecue smoke.
The gorgeous Thompson-Bowling Arena, on the pristine waters of the Stinkin Creek, is home to the Lady Vols and on super special occasions, the men are allowed to play here too they just have to clean up afterward.
Women’s Basketball is the pillar of UT Athletics, and there’s certainly no shame in that game. The Lady Vols are one of the greatest traditions in women’s hoops and the way things are trending, they’ll probably still be a top 10-ish program in that sport for the foreseeable future. How many schools can lay claim to a top 10-ish women’s sports team anchoring its athletic program?
Still, don’t be surprised if UT swings for a walk-off hire to replace Martin. After striking out on its last two football hires in an attempt to replace the Hall of Fame coach it fired, they swung hard and landed Butch Jones. As the great Harmon Killebrew might have said, “Sometimes you swing for the fence and you fly out to shallow center, but you sleep easy knowing you took an honest hack.”
Going to the Elite 8 in the Women’s NCAA Tournament year in and year out is what makes the University of Tennessee a special place. It also has a top-notch marching band. And, Knoxville has a Cheesecake Factory. Strong campus attributes, no doubt, but you have to wonder: just what exactly is the cost of living in the Lady Vols’ shadow?