An Open Letter to Cuonzo Martin
Congratulations on leading the Vols to the Sweet 16. Watching this team come together and dominate opponents the last few weeks has been a pleasure. But this letter isn’t about you, it’s about a group of us who never gave you a chance. We owe you an apology.
After just one game this season, some of us wanted you gone. We didn’t sit on our disapproval, but loudly proclaimed it on social media, radio shows, and at games. Over 36,000 of us signed a petition to oust you in favor of a former coach. We proclaimed that Tennessee basketball was dead and that it wasn’t ever coming back with you at the helm. Even worse, we didn’t give you a chance to prove us wrong.
We failed to appreciate that you’ve won over 20 games a year at Tennessee despite walking into a mess. We failed to appreciate that you’ve increased your win total every year. We weren’t grateful for how you guided us out of NCAA hot water.
We never praised you for the type of young men you’ve developed. We never gave you credit for the accomplishments of your players in the classroom. We never mentioned all that your teams have done for those in need in East Tennessee. We never thanked you for keeping your players out of the headlines for embarrassing off-the-court issues.
Our failures don’t end there. We were blind to the type of leader you are. We were blind to the love your players have for you. We ignored the quiet work you do in the community—work you do because you care, not because you want to draw attention to yourself. We were blind to your growth as a coach and to your potential.
Yet, here you are in the Sweet 16 leading a team that might be the best story of the tournament. Here you are leading a group of young men who blocked out all our chatter, backed you, and embraced your coaching. You deserve a tremendous amount of credit for keeping this team together. Many coaches would have lost them when the criticism reached deafening levels, but not you. Instead, you got them playing together at just the right time.
We’re sincerely sorry for doubting you. We’re sincerely sorry for not giving you a chance. We apologize for not embracing you when you took a job few wanted. We’re sorry for not treating you with the respect and dignity you deserve.
Despite all our failures and lack of support, you never stopped grinding. You never stopped giving your all for our program. For that, we say thank you.
Thank you for being our coach. Thank you for dealing with our criticism respectfully and for resisting the urge to call us out. Thank you for winning and winning the right way. Thank you for representing our university with class. Thank you for being such an exemplary role model.
It takes a big man to accept an apology from those who were hypercritical—but we know that’s exactly the type of man you are.
We hope you get the extension and raise you deserve.