FOX Sports Exclusive
K-State coach Martin has climbed out of basement
Share This Story
Martin’s boss, Rudy Keeling, had been fired at Northeastern University in March of 2001 and was replaced by Ron Everhart — a guy who Martin says he didn’t know "from a hole in the wall."
"Leo allowed me to stay at his place while I figured out what I was going to do with my life," Martin recalled. "I couldn’t even get a high school job back in Miami.”
Then, after Bob Huggins and Papile both went to bat for Martin, Everhart kept him on board.
Less than a decade later and now the coach of a soon-to-be top-10 team at Kansas State after Monday night’s victory over No. 1 Texas, Martin’s road — filled with twists and turns — doesn’t allow himself to get caught up in the hype that now surrounds his Wildcats.
"I’m just worried about today and tomorrow,” Martin said.
But what Martin has done in his 2½ years is quiet the naysayers and validate himself as a guy who was more than just a hired gun to keep Michael Beasley in Manhattan, Kan.
His mark as a college head coach now stands at 59-26 and the Wildcats are 16-2 this season.
Martin, the son of Cuban immigrants, paid his dues as an AAU and high school coach down in Miami before moving to Boston and working at Northeastern.
His college coaching career was ordained by commuting more than an hour from just outside Providence, R.I., where he would catch a 5:30 a.m. bus, then jump on an 8 a.m. commuter rail into Boston.
"I had to sleep in the office half of the time because I couldn’t leave the office early enough to catch the last one back to Providence,” Martin said.
Everhart spurned Huggins’ attempts to bring him on board as his associate head coach at Cincinnati before suggesting the hiring of Martin instead.
"When he asked me, I asked him how quickly he wanted me there,” Martin said.
Martin spent one season under Huggins and another working alongside interim coach Andy Kennedy after Huggins was forced out.
"We had no idea if either of us would have a job after that year,” Martin said. "When you’re an assistant coach, it’s a hard life because there’s no security.”
Huggins landed back on his feet at Kansas State after a year off, brought Martin on board and signed highly touted high school star Bill Walker and was set to welcome in another elite player, Michael Beasley.
Martin appeared to finally have some security.
Then he wasn’t sure if he’d live to see any of it.
A month after Huggins brought him to K-State, Martin spent two weeks in the hospital with what doctors feared was pancreatic cancer.
"I had to live 10 days of my life thinking there was a chance I had it,” Martin recalled. "And only 4 percent of people recover from it.”
As it turned out, it was a combination of ulcers and a severe case of pancreatitis.
"I quit drinking and changed my lifestyle,” said Martin, who has gone from a high of 330 pounds to his current weight of 270.
Martin was as healthy as ever and Kansas State won 23 games in Huggins' first — and what would be his only season — in Manhattan.
Then John Beilein left for Michigan and Huggins’ alma mater, West Virginia, came calling.
"People thought it was an open and shut case and he was definitely going,” Martin said. "But we met for coffee at 6:30 on that Thursday morning. He looked like Randall “Tex” Cobb when he fought Larry Holmes. He was so beat up because he didn’t want to leave here.”
No one expected what happened next.
Former athletic director Tim Weiser called Martin, who was set to board a plane with Huggins the next afternoon bound for Morgantown, W.Va. Less than 24 hours later, Martin and his new associate head coach, Dalonte Hill, were celebrating in a back room after each agreeing to four-year contracts.
"We were like two little kids,” Martin said. "We were emotional being given a break in our careers.”
Then the skeptics came out. There were those who thought the only reason Martin was given the opportunity was because he and Hill could keep the current players in town — and make certain of Beasley’s arrival.
"What bothered me was how personal it was towards Frank,” said Weiser, now an associate commissioner at the Big 12.
They took hold of Martin’s past, when he was fired at Miami High shortly after the Florida High School Activities Association vacated the school’s 1998 state championship after deeming five players were ineligible.
"I heard it all,” Martin said. "But I don’t care about the perception. If I was worried about that, I wouldn’t have gone with Huggins when he called me.”
Weiser admits that if he didn’t hire Martin, it would have been as though the program was starting over for the third time in three years. But the decision wasn’t made to keep Beasley and Walker in the fold.
"I knew those two players weren’t going to be at Kansas State long,” Weiser said. "For us to make a decision to keep two kids for a year or so would have been incredibly short-sighted.
"I knew what Bob (Huggins) thought of Frank and I felt like Frank was the perfect fit in Manhattan,” he added. "They love people who do it in a blue-collar way and pride themselves with outworking you and outhustling you — and that’s Frank.”
Martin and Hill both took their shots, but took a team led by Beasley and Walker to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But the skeptics remained.
"Who wouldn’t win with two of the top players in the country?” was the most common rhetorical question coming out of Manhattan.
"Let’s see if he can do it when Beasley and Walker are gone,” they asked.
Martin has used his wide array of connections to bring in guys like Denis Clemente (Miami) and Curtis Kelly (UConn), two high-profile transfers who have thrived at Kansas State. Hill continues to reel in talent from the D.C. Assault program he used to run. In fact, four current players are D.C. Assault alums: Dominique Sutton, Jamar Samuels and freshmen Wally Judge and Rodney McGruder.
"Frank’s an old-school guy whose teams will overachieve because he doesn’t accept anything less than 100 percent effort,” Papile said. "He’s done it the old-fashioned way.”
After an NIT appearance a year ago, this Kansas State club has a chance to advance past the second round — where Beasley and Walker led the Wildcats.
"I’ve always thought we had a good team,” Martin said. "We have depth, guys that can score and defend at the rim. We’ve got a plethora of big bodies and experienced guards.”
"When you have all of that, I think you’ve got a chance,” he added.
Martin has certainly taken advantage of his.
More Stories From Jeff Goodman