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March 29, 2012
Eight years ago, Frank Martin was an assistant coach at Northeastern, a small Division I school fighting for visibility and respect in the bustling city of Boston.
Today, he's a head coach in the SEC after agreeing to take on the task of rebuilding the fractured South Carolina program.
How does one account for Martin's rapid ascent over the last decade from assistant coaching jobs at Northeastern (2000-04), Cincinnati (2004-06) and Kansas State (2006-07) to the top job at KSU (2007-12) and now the job at USC?
In many ways, it's a story about psychology.
Sixteen years as a high-school basketball coach and schoolteacher in his hometown of Miami taught Martin many important and vital lessons about how boys and young men behave, think and act.
"As a high school coach, you have to deal with 13-year-old kids and 18-year-old kids, and you have to get them to understand what it takes to succeed in college," Martin said after being introduced on Tuesday. "Being a teacher is what I'm about. Those years as a high-school teacher made me who I am today."
When he finally left Miami in 2000, he applied many of those same lessons to college coaching.
"The misconception out there is we blame kids for lack of discipline," Martin said. "Don't blame kids. It's the adults who don't hold kids accountable and teach them how not to be disciplined. When you put the onus on the kids rather than accepting the responsibility to make them do right ... that's a battle I'll never stop fighting.
"I understand I might be different from today's society because I'm passionate and I'm not scared to be honest. I will never change my persona or my passion for those kids. Our guys will be held accountable every day for whatever they are responsible for. We will maximize who we are every day. Not sometimes. Every day."
Martin credited predecessor Darrin Horn for establishing a foundation that he hopes to continue building on. But Martin recognizes Horn was ultimately fired for not winning enough games.
"Coach Horn built a program which has some fundamental responsibility in place," Martin said. "It makes our mission easier to attain, and it's never easy. We have some good kids in the program that have been held accountable and represented this school well in every way except that win column. It's my duty to try to complete that part."
As a way to teach responsibility, Martin requires his players to become involved in the community with schools and projects "to make this a better place."
"We all get judged on wins and losses, I understand that," Martin said. "But to me it's about people and about kids. It's a little deeper. I believe if you take care of the important things and help them prepare to become men, so they'll be ready for all the responsibilities life throws at them. If you take care of those things, the scoreboard takes care of itself. That's the approach I've taken.
"I don't worry about the final score of the game. I worry about the final score in life. I want to prepare those guys to succeed in life. When you do that, you learn how to be committed, how to be passionate, how to be loyal and how to be honest."
Martin wants his players to take the lessons they learn off the court and apply them to basketball 30 or so times a year, when the Gamecocks take the court.
"When they finish college and become a man, they have to do their job as a husband, father and employee 365 days a year," Martin said. "That means you have to be unselfish and committed to the team duty 365 days. As a college athlete, you get an opportunity to do it 35 times a year. What kind of a man would that make us if we can't sacrifice and be unselfish and be committed to doing our jobs to the best of our abilities 35 times a year, compared to 365 when they step out in the world after college?"
Martin's strategy of focusing primarily on preparing his players for life beyond basketball paid dividends at Kansas State. The team's APR rose from 857 to 960 and the Wildcats had the Big 12's highest graduation rate in his five seasons as coach.
"We've had the right kids do the right things around the right people," Martin said. "You do that and you will find success."
Martin will be tested at USC in three important areas - win games, put people in the seats and graduate his players.
"Some people run away from challenges. I run to challenges," Martin said. "I've been doing it my whole life. I get excited about it. I'm real passionate about kids and making them understand the incredible opportunity they have as student-athletes. I'm all about kids. I've worked with them. I'm patient with them. As long as they're taking steps forward, I'll help them move in the right direction."
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