Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin’s name popped up Tuesday night in connection with the Illinois coaching vacancy.
The Illini are looking for a replacement for Bruce Weber, who was fired earlier this month after compiling a 210-101 record in nine seasons in Champagne.
Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart is considered to be Illinois’ top target to replace Weber. If Smart declines the job, Martin could become a candidate, according to Gail Fischer of Comcast SportsNet in Chicago.
The idea of Martin leaving Tennessee after one season in Knoxville would be surprising. But don’t count it out, writes Fischer.
“Sources close to both Illinois and Martin found out that Martin would be VERY interested in coaching at Illinois. Interested enough to pull a Lane Kiffin and leave Tennessee high and dry.”
Fischer went on to provide details into Martin’s potential staff at Illinois, which would include former Illini player Deon Thomas, who is the head coach at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Ill.
Tennessee associate media relations director Tom Satkowiak released a statement via twitter in response to rumors that Martin would be interested in the job at Illinois.
Coach Martin and his family love it here at Tennessee, he is happy as a Vol and there is no truth to tonight’s rumors.
— Tom Satkowiak (@TomSatkowiak) March 21, 2012
I would be stunned to see Martin, a former Purdue player and assistant coach, leave Tennessee for Illinois after one season. As Mike Griffith pointed out in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Martin would owe Tennessee $2.6 million if he were to leave during the first three years of his contract. He’s working under a five-year deal worth $1.3 million annually.
None of that will matter if Smart accepts the job at Illinois. If he doesn’t, Illinois will turn to Plan B. The Chicago Tribune laid out that potential plan on Tuesday night. That report didn’t include Martin’s name among the list of candidates.