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Frank Martin's Departure From Kansas State Not As Surprising As It May Seem

Frank Martin's ongoing rift with Kansas State athletic director John Currie may have opened the coach's eyes, but it was the bigger picture that led him out the door and onward to South Carolina.

Frank Martin, former head basketball coach at Kansas State
Frank Martin, former head basketball coach at Kansas State
I'm hesitant to add another voice to the topic du jour on today's sports pages, but I think too much is being made of Frank Martin's apparent running rift with Kansas State athletic director John Currie as the tipping point for his hitching up the wagons and departing the Octagon of Doom on the Kansas prairie for what obviously are greener coaching pastures (as in the color of money) in South Carolina - where the gamecocks, not the buffaloes, roam.

Martin's move was inevitable. If not this year, then maybe the next year or sometime in the not-too-distant future. That's what happens when coaches, like Martin, are successful, especially in out-of-the-way places like Manhattan, Kan., where Kansas State is located.

The 46-year-old Martin is an East Coast guy and, more specifically, the southern end of the Eastern seaboard. He grew up in the Miami area, the American-born son of Cuban immigrants, and coached high school basketball there for 15 years before entering the college ranks in 2000 as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Northeastern (Boston) University. He got his big break when he joined Bob Huggins' staff at Cincinnati in 2004, and followed Huggins to Kansas State two years later.

When Huggins resigned after one season coaching at Kansas State, Martin became the head coach of the Wildcats, his first head-coaching job. Martin made the most of the opportunity, leading the Wildcats to their first NCAA appearance in 12 seasons in his first year as head coach in 2007. He went on to compile a 117-54 record in his five seasons in Manhattan, including three more NCAA appearances, making him the second winningest coach in Kansas State history, behind only the legendary Tex Winter.

It is true that Martin and Currie were not bosom buddies - in fact, far from it. Martin made it known that he did not care for Currie's micromanagement of the basketball program and the fact that Martin was not a hire of Currie's only added to the relationship gap between the two men.

The latest gaff between the two disparate personalities, and the incident alleged to be the breaking point, occurred during this year's NCAA Tournament, when Currie found out the Wildcat basketball player Jamar Samuels had accepted a $200 payment sent to him by his former AAU coach. Concerned about a potential NCAA violation, Currie subsequently suspended Samuels prior to Kansas State's second tournament game.

Martin did not agree with the decision and was further angered because, he said, he was not a participant in the decision.

The Kansas City Star, citing a source who is close to Martin, reported in the Tuesday edition of the newspaper that Martin did not feel he had the full support of his athletic director and president at Kansas State and he did not feel he had the freedom and the trust of the K-State administration to perform his job as coach to the best of his ability.
This most definitely was a factor that opened Martin's eyes to the possibilities of new challenges elsewhere, but in my opinion it was only a contributing factor, not the predominant one.

Coaches like Martin are motivated by the recruiting and teaching aspects of the game, by the opportunity to work with young men and not only help them become better basketball players but good people, as well. They thrive on the challenges that present themselves in this process and the opportunity to build a winning program that is recognized for its competitive nature as well as the ability to achieve a sustainable level of success on and off the court.

Martin said as much in the press conference at South Carolina on Tuesday officially introducing him as the new head coach of the Gamecocks. "Some people run away from challenges," said the animated coach known widely for his piercing stare. I run to them. I always have."

Let's not kid ourselves, it's also about the money, as is usually the case. Martin signed a new contract at Kansas State that was paying him an average of $1.55 million per year through 2015. He reportedly will make $2 million per year at South Carolina as part of a six-year deal with the Southeastern Conference school. In addition, South Carolina agreed to pay the $1 million buyout of his Kansas State contract.

It's also about scale...and the challenge putting bodies in the 18,000 seats at Colonial Life Arena, South Carolina's basketball facility and the location of Tuesday's press conference introducing Martin. Which is something Martin fully expects to do. By comparison Bramlage Coliseum at Kansas State, otherwise known as the Octagon of Doom for the Wildcats' opponents, seats 12,500.

Martin reportedly was asked by Currie what it would take to keep him at Kansas State, to which the coach quickly responded, he believed it was time to make a change.

The new South Carolina coach will definitely have a challenge in front of him. The Gamecocks won only 10 games in 2011-12 and were just 2-14 in finishing last in the SEC.

This is not the first coaching vacancy for which Martin's name has come up. He has been considered previously for coaching openings at Depaul, UNLV, Oregon and Miami. When Frank Haith left Miami to become the head coach at Missouri a year ago, Martin was widely believed to be a lead candidate to return to his hometown.

Martin will surely be missed at Kansas State. The Wildcats haven't enjoyed this much success in basketball since the days of Jack Hartman, who amassed a winning percentage of .636 (295-169) in 16 seasons as the head man at Kansas State. There was quite a bit of doubt surrounding Martin's elevation to head coach when he took over for Bob Huggins, who is now at West Virginia. Martin wasted little time in dispelling those doubts and earning the endearment of the K-State faithful.

The 117 wins under Martin's leadership were great and well earned, but they only came about because of his ability to find and attract good talent and players with solid potential to come to the other Kansas school in the Big 12 and buy-in to Martin's hard-nosed, blue-collar style of play. Success on the court is a fleeting thing unless you keep the pipeline with a steady infusion of incoming talent. Martin has done that about as well as anybody in the country during his time at Kansas State.

Martin joins Missouri's Haith and Billy Kennedy of Texas A&M as former Big 12 coaches who will be part of the SEC basketball world in 2012-13.

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