By popular demand, I give you today’s POAPS – Frank Martin. The fifty year-old is in his fifth season as the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. Martin, a native of Miami, FL (not Ohio, to be clear), the child of Cuban exiles, and an alum of the estimable Florida International University. He had a two decade career as a high school coach in Florida (more on this later) before assistant stints at Northeastern, Cincinnati, and Kansas State. Martin ultimately took the helm at K-State in 2007 for five seasons, followed by his lateral-ish move to South Carolina in 2012 (more on THAT later as well).
Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:
1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?
Not so much, no. K-State made the Big Dance 4 out of 5 years under Martin, and that included an Elite Eight run in 2010. They were ranked at various times throughout those five seasons, finishing that 2010 season ranked 7th overall after amassing a 29-8 (11-5) record. The Gamecocks were ranked at points last season and are currently in the Top 25 this season. South Carolina has yet to make the Big Dance but is trending that way this year.
2. Has he built a program from the ground up?
K-State is a yes-ish, South Carolina is looking like a yes. Martin took over at K-State after one season of Bob Huggins. Huggins gets a lot of initial credit for starting the turn-around at KSU, but it was Martin who took them back to the Big Dance in 2008 for the first time since 1996. Finishing his time in the Little Apple with an overall record of 117-54 (50-32 in the Bix XII) and never finishing below 5th in the league – it is safe to say that Martin took the initial momentum from Huggins and built a stable, consistent tournament contender and 20-win-a-season program. At South Carolina, which had been in the NIT doldrums for most of the last two decades (or longer), Martin has yet to lead the Gamecocks back to the Big Dance but has steadily improved, winning 14 games in his first two seasons, followed by 17 in 2015, and last year’s breakthrough of a 25-9 season capped by a NIT bid (some would argue South Carolina was last year’s Virginia Tech in that they should have been in the Big Dance). This year’s team looks on track to make the tournament for the first time since 2004, currently sitting at 19-5 (9-2) and in the top third of the SEC standings.
3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?
Second time I’ve done this so maybe the script needs rewriting, but see #2 above. I’d say, yes.
4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?
As noted above (DANGIT), this is a yes as well (assuming that SC makes the tournament this year).
5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?
In addition to his head coaching record at K-State and Sakerlina, Martin was an assistant at K-State and Cincinnati for Huggins (and some Andy Kennedy thrown in there as well).
6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?
Yep. South Carolina is currently tied for first with Kentucky and Florida in the SEC at 10-2. These three are juggernauts in the league right now with the next best teams sporting 7-5 records.
7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?
WOOOO GET READY! Martin’s South Carolina team is currently NUMERO UNO in Ken Pom’s adjusted defensive stats, giving up 86.5 points per 100 possessions. South Carolina was 36th last year and 21st the year before, so defense is a thing his teams do...do? His teams are known for their aggressive defense and so far at South Carolina (once they got some talent in the door), they have clearly shown a propensity for defense. I wonder what that must be like?
8. So how about offense?
Ah – it could be a little better. Tempo-wise, the Gamecocks are hanging around near 200th in the NCAA this season, and they aren’t terribly offensively efficient, at 141st overall, averaging 1.06 points per possession. This has been a pretty consistent theme in his time at South Carolina. Overall, Martin’s teams rely on their hard-nosed defense and rebounding to generate extra offense and possessions. Which I can dig - but in the set offense they tend to struggle a bit.
9. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?
Well there was this guy named MICHAEL BEASLEY that Martin helped bring to the Little Apple when he was at K-State. Martin’s overall recruiting efforts have been solid, he has taken a page out of Huggy Bear’s playbook and has lived off of JUCO transfers, transfers from smaller schools, etc. usually pulling in 2-3 per year. South Carolina’s current team has three such transfers on the roster, and they have been a mainstay of both of his head coaching stints. His biggest recruit at South Carolina to-date is no doubt PJ Dozier, the Sophomore PG who committed to his hometown Gamecocks over offers from UNC, Michigan, and Georgetown amongst others.
10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?
Does Tommy Corchiani being a walk-on at South Carolina count? No? In that case, no, other than living in a state in the "footprint".
11. Any other random red flags or positives?
It was all going so well right? Martin was a high school coach at Miami Senior High School in the late ‘90s and coached Udonis Haslem and Steve Blake during that time. They won three state championships that all ended up getting vacated due to recruiting violations – Martin was never formally implicated in those violations but he was fired shortly after the titles were vacated in 1999. In addition, stories have circulated about impermissible benefits and other potentially shady dealings from his time at K-State (including allegations around Michael Beasely’s recruitment). He has not been hit with violations to this point, but there is a general stench around him. Is having worked for Andy Kennedy a red flag? Older Pack fans may feel so. Also the lateral move from K-State to South Carolina – more on that below. He also has been suspended a few times for being a little too rowdy, and potentially verbally abusive, to his players.
Would he be better than Gottfried?
Probably? I’d say that his tenure at K-State was pretty impressive given where he was coaching and their history – he has only matched what Gott’s best season was a HC (an Elite Eight) and won no conference titles in the process. But his teams seem like they play harder and smarter than what we have seen over the past couple of seasons.
Would he be better than Sid?
Yes. (Pass Go, Collect $200!)
Would he take the job if offered?
This is where I’m super dubious and would say maybe but I lean probably not. The move from K-State to South Carolina was telling to me. He has, so far, only coached at schools that are little bit backwater and off-the-grid in terms of basketball. Does he want the challenge of coaching in the ACC? Some would say he ran away from a much harder basketball conference in the Big XII to the SEC, but others would look at that move and say who wouldn’t have taken a pay bump to get the hell out of Kansas, in the literal shadow of one of the blue bloods, and have the chance to build a program that could easily be a top-four program in an SEC devoid of depth? He is also making north of $2 million a year at South Carolina, meaning that we would have to pay him more than Gott is making now to get him, and possibly a lot more if South Carolina tried to out-bid us. And you can’t rule out that he is just now seeing the fruits of his labor at South Carolina with his best team in his tenure there potentially playing its way to a top 6 seed in the Big Dance, maybe even a shot at the SEC title. You never know - maybe he would relish that next challenge, but hard to say right now that it would be no-brainer or anything close to it.
How would I feel if he were hired?
Good overall, I suppose. I don’t know why I’m not crazy about this guy. On paper, it would be the most impressive hire we would have made in some time. I feel like we would have to pay him a ton to get him here….and I just question fit? But if it happened I would get on-board, I’d just be leery that with some of the old skeletons rattling around that the combination of the pressure of this job, the media attention, our bad luck, etc. that something bad would end up happening. And the money too. If we had to pay him $3 million+…maybe that is just the way of college basketball these days but man, seems like a little much for a guy who has never won a conference title or made successive, deep NCAA runs.
How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?
I think it would be generally well-received. I think there would be an expectation of pretty immediate success given his track record and how much we would be shelling out. He has the personality to win the press conference and if he could convince a host of transfers or early departures from happening (which I would give him a good chance of) then it would probably go over well.