David Cloninger

Winning helps change perception of Martin

USC's Frank Martin talks about why he's an educator

Despite leading South Carolina to its first Final Four, head coach Frank Martin said he's still a math teacher at heart because he's always an educator.
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Despite leading South Carolina to its first Final Four, head coach Frank Martin said he's still a math teacher at heart because he's always an educator.

I wish I saved the emails I received from March 6-10, 2014. I could reply to each of them now with, “You were saying?”

Look, Frank Martin messed up on March 4 that year. His profane outburst toward a player during a 72-46 loss at Florida was a bad look for himself and South Carolina.

“Fire him now!” “We can’t condone this!” “Would you want your child playing for him?” were the most popular subject lines in my inbox (and boy, were there a few quite nastier ones). I agreed that Martin lost his head for a minute during that game, but I also pointed out a lot of things.

One, that’s who Martin is and who Eric Hyman knew he hired. Two, it’s not up to me or you to judge how it looks and it feels, it’s up to the player, and that player (Duane Notice) said he didn’t mind because Martin was trying to make him better.

Three, you wouldn’t give a lick if USC’s record at the time was 19-11, instead of the 11-19 it was.

When I talked to Notice after the SEC tournament that year – the Gamecocks won their regular-season finale at Mississippi State after the Florida loss without Martin, then two games in the tournament with him before falling to Tennessee – it gave me the only proof I needed to know Martin was the guy for USC basketball. Notice said he loved his coach, that he signed to play for him because of that emotion and couldn’t wait for the future.

In this day of transferring if your team has a bad season, Notice and his mates didn’t leave after that 14-20 season. They wanted to be there for Martin, they wanted to be Gamecocks. Every one of them knew what they were picking when they committed, because Martin doesn’t hold back when recruits come to practices.

Four years later, they leave with 51 wins over two seasons and a Final Four berth. Why?

Because Martin was always the best choice to take over a program that had slipped to nothing, and that never changed despite those rough early moments.

Martin joked about it in Phoenix, although it wasn’t really a joke. It was exactly what I said above – winning changes perception.

Martin was amazed at how many new friends he’d made when the Gamecocks won the East Regional, about how before he was a yeller and a screamer and now he’s “passionate.” He and I have said it for five years now and it’s never been more true – the 40 minutes on game day don’t nearly represent Martin.

He’s the guy who fills a father role when players are away from their families. He’s the one who teaches them about life beyond basketball. He’s the man who points out mistakes he made in his life, so they won’t make the same.

He’s the one who broke down talking about how this year’s seniors weathered the bad times to emerge as champions, and about how they’d forever be linked by every moment over four years, not just the three weeks that had the entire country buzzing over Gamecock basketball.

Martin has never tried to hide behind a veil, saying what he says and being himself. That’s how he got to this point, and every step’s been a winner. In one season, he won more games than anyone ever has at USC, and took it to the brink of a national championship.

Remember that the next time you disagree with his style of coaching or the Gamecocks lose a game. He knows what he’s doing.

“Would you want your child playing for him?”

You bet I would.

Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState

Martin’s record as head coach

Season

School

Record

Conf.

Postseason

2007-08

Kansas State

21-12

10-6 (3rd)

NCAA 2nd Round

2008-09

Kansas State

22-12

9-7 (T4th)

NIT 2nd Round

2009-10

Kansas State

29-8

11-5 (T2nd)

NCAA Elite Eight

2010-11

Kansas State

23-11

10-6 (T3rd)

NCAA 2nd Round

2011-12

Kansas State

22-11

10-8 (5th)

NCAA 2nd Round

2012-13

South Carolina

14-18

4-14 (T12th)

--

2013-14

South Carolina

14-20

5-13 (13th)

--

2014-15

South Carolina

17-16

6-12 (T11th)

--

2015-16

South Carolina

25-9

11-7 (T3rd)

NIT 2nd Round

2016-17

South Carolina

26-11

12-6 (T3rd)

NCAA Final Four

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