Missouri Basketball: It’s Time to Talk about Cuonzo

Missouri Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin during the first half against the Arkansas Razorbacks Mandatory Credit: (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
Missouri Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin during the first half against the Arkansas Razorbacks Mandatory Credit: (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports) /

It’s time to have a serious discussion about the future of Cuonzo Martin as the head coach for the Missouri Tigers.

I take no pleasure in this. I genuinely think Cuonzo Martin is a wonderful man with a big heart, a passion to get young men on the right track in life, and a deep love of the university.

These things cannot be said about all college football and basketball head coaches. The University of Missouri is lucky to have two such men leading their largest revenue-generating programs.

I’m not here to make a deal with the devil, either. There are more than a few fans who would gladly accept a slimy coach who attracts bad characters or the ire of the NCAA (or FBI) to win more games. Count me out.

Perhaps naively, I still think good people can lead winning programs.

Cuonzo Martin is a good man. He’s just not getting the job done on the court. There is no shame in that, but there must be accountability.

If he were the head coach of the Men’s cross country team, making a salary compatible with that position, I’d not care a lick. The truth – the hard truth – is that outside of men’s basketball and football, all other university sports are glorified intramurals as far as income is concerned.

The University of Missouri has 18 mens and womens sports to support, 18 mouths to feed. Mens football and basketball are the breadwinners. If either sport hits rock bottom, it affects the entire athletic department.

After an embarrassing home loss to the UMKC Kangaroos, the Tigers are decidedly not on the path of a winning program. The team may not be at rock bottom, but you can certainly see it from here.

Cuonzo Martin makes $3 million a year. He’s the highest paid mens basketball coach in school history. That comes with expectations. It’s a simple formula – winning equals income. Winning attracts ticket buyers, sponsors, increases merchandise sales – it even improves enrollment.

Missouri is just starting its 5th season under Martin. His first season remains his best. Since then he’s only made one NCAA appearance. That 16-10 team last year promptly bowed out in the first round. Despite a .540 winning percentage over his tenure, Missouri is not considered, by any serious-minded person, a “winning program.”

It’s not supposed to be like this for 5th year coaches. They have had a chance to completely overhaul their rosters, incorporate their culture, scheme, methods, and coaches. Year five is when the arrow is supposed to be pointing up, even if you’ve taken lumps for several years to give a coach extra runway.

With the UMKC Kangaroos currently holding bragging rights as the best NCAA basketball team in Missouri, any momentum in the Martin era has come to a screeching halt.

Missouri, like so many other large state universities, believes they have everything needed to compete for National titles. They have great facilities, they are the only P5 school in the state. Kansas City and St. Louis are fertile recruiting grounds and major-market fanbases. As a whole – especially with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas – the SEC is the best conference in the country.

Kids should be lining up to play at such a place. Coaches should dream of leading programs like Missouri. However, both these perceived realities remain elusive in practice.

Missouri bet big on Martin. In 2017, they threw down seven years and $21 million to get him. That’s not a move the faint of heart make. Everyone wanted it to work. I believe Martin and the University have given every effort to take the program to the next level.


It’s also fair to say, and plain to see at this point, that it hasn’t worked out.

The loss to the Kangaroos might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Does anyone see a guaranteed win on the schedule beyond NAIA Paul Quinn College?

Will they win more than one game the rest of the year? Sure. But does anyone honestly see another game you feel confident about? I don’t.

Missouri will be doing another coaching search after this season. The new Athletic Director, Desiree Reed-Francois, won’t miss the opportunity to put her stamp on the program. Hiring a new coach for men’s football or basketball is the most visible action an AD takes. It’s even bigger than new stadium upgrades. Coaches define programs more than new locker rooms and suite decor.

After five years, the Cuonzo Martin Era looks to be ending. All involved gave it the old college try. There are no villains here. But there is a record – and there needs to be accountability.

Related Story. More Tiger news. light