BERKELEY, Calif. -- A more relaxed fan base, milder weather and a chance to coach at the top-rated public university in the country added up to Cuonzo Martin making the decision to leave Tennessee for California.
Cal hired Martin as the 16th men's basketball coach in school history Tuesday, a decision that stunned Volunteers administrators and players after he had reaffirmed his commitment to Tennessee just two weeks ago. Martin said it was a difficult move but the opportunity at Cal was too much to pass up.
"It's a beautiful place. I got off the plane and I just said, 'Ahhh,' " Martin said during his introductory news conference in Berkeley. "I think it has a chance to be special here. I think that's the most intriguing thing to me. It's a place I could spend the rest of my life."
Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said Martin's contract, which is still being finalized, is for five years. Financial details will be released at a later date.
Martin also said he will bring "quite a few" of his assistant coaches from Tennessee to Cal once his contract is complete.
Martin replaces Mike Montgomery, who retired last month after six seasons in Berkeley. Martin went 63-41 in three seasons at Tennessee, including a 24-13 mark and an appearance in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament this season. He also was previously the coach at Missouri State.
Martin succeeds one of the most successful college coaches in the history of the San Francisco Bay Area. Montgomery finished his career with a 677-317 record, having also spent 18 years at Stanford and eight at Montana.
Cal hasn't hired a head coach that spent the previous season as the head coach at another major conference school since 1954 when it brought in Pete Newell of Michigan State, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Newell went on to win the school's only national championship in 1959.
Replacing a revered coach is nothing new for Martin.
Martin, a 42-year-old native of East Saint Louis, Illinois, took over a Tennessee program under NCAA investigation in 2011 and has averaged 21 wins per year. But, at times, he struggled to escape the shadow of former coach Bruce Pearl, who led the Volunteers to NCAA tournament appearances in each of his six years on the job.
"For me, as a coach, your style is your style," Martin said. "I don't mind following guys. I like learning from guys."
The decision left players, administrators and fans back in Knoxville stunned. Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said he didn't know Martin was involved in the Cal job until they spoke Tuesday morning.
"We did have a conversation. He was very emotional," Hart said. "The bottom line is he said in his heart he believed this was best for (him) and his family."
Hart said he wishes Martin "nothing but success" at Cal and understands why he left after a "tough year."
When Tennessee was struggling earlier this season, disgruntled fans started an online petition to bring back Pearl, who has since been hired by Auburn. Martin began to silence his critics when Tennessee revived its season by winning eight of nine games before falling 73-71 to Michigan in the Midwest Regional semifinals.