KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri fired basketball coach Cuonzo Martin on Friday night, one day after the Tigers finished a 12-21 season with a 76-68 loss to LSU in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Tigers athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said in a statement that the search for a new coach would begin immediately, and that longtime coach and administrator Eddie Fogler would assist in the process.
It will be the first major coaching hire at Missouri for Reed-Francois, who was hired by the school in August.
“Coach Martin represented the university with an extremely high level of class and dignity,” Reed-Francois said. “We are grateful for his contributions to our program, on and off the floor. He is not only a coach, but is a teacher, and he has impacted the lives of every student-athlete who came through the program over the last five years.”
Martin was hired five years ago following the failed three-year tenure of Kim Anderson, promising to bring an exciting style of play along with high-level recruits. But most of those recruits, such as Michael Porter Jr., struggled with injuries and the pieces never seemed to come together in Columbia, where Martin had a record of 78-77.
“Last game coaching? I’m good to go,” he said Thursday night. “I’m at peace with whatever. I don’t get consumed with that. I don’t worry about that. If that’s the best thing for both parties, then that’s the best thing for both parties. But I won’t waste any time with that. Whatever happens, happens.
“I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” Martin added, “but I have a tremendous peace of mind, and I’m going back to the hotel to relax with my family and then go from there.”
Martin certainly had support from many of his rival coaches, including South Carolina’s Frank Martin.
“Last time I checked they went to the NCAA Tournament last year, if I’m not mistaken,” he said Thursday. “I don’t know what this business is coming to when men like him get questioned on what they can and can’t do, and get judged this year in this league coming off the year he had last year. We got major issues in this business if somebody that had that team top 20 in the country pretty much all season last year and went to the NCAA tournament (gets fired).
“When is the last time you read about Cuonzo Martin’s teams in any kind of negative connote? You’re not,” Martin continued. “When is the last time you read a player for Cuonzo Martin in any kind of negative connote? You’re not. He just came off an NCAA Tournament, and people start talking like that? That’s sad. This business isn’t right if that’s the way we go.”
After stints at Missouri State, Tennessee and California, Martin’s best season with Missouri was his first, the 2017-18 season, when Porter led the Tigers to a 20-12 record and the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers went 15-16 the following season when they were ineligible for postseason play, and 15-16 during the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season.
They finally returned to the NCAA Tournament last season, squeaking into the 68-team field with a 16-9 record, but were edged by former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in their first-round matchup.
Missouri has struggled to find success since the retirement of beloved coach Norm Stewart.
Quin Snyder had a few good years – including an Elite Eight appearance – that were ultimately tainted by controversy, and he went 12-16 during his final season in Columbia. Mike Anderson took the Tigers to the Elite Eight but left Missouri in a lurch after five seasons when he departed for Arkansas. And Frank Haith also courted controversy during his up-and-down tenure at Missouri.
If nothing else, Martin led the program with grace and class through widespread social unrest on campus, including protests during the Black Lives Matter movement that came to be defined by the football and basketball programs.
Martin just didn’t win enough games in a business where that is usually the bottom line.
“I believe that Mizzou is one of the best men’s basketball coaching jobs in the country,” Reed-Francois said in her statement. “We have and will continue to invest in our men’s basketball program, and I look forward to introducing the new leader of our program to our community in the near future. We will work quickly and expeditiously to find the candidate who is the best fit to continue building our championship culture.”