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March 26, 2012

Hood: Frank(ly), a home run for Hyman

If Frank Martin is indeed the guy to coach the South Carolina men's basketball team, USC athletics director Eric Hyman has made a home-run hire.

Would it be the grand slam Gregg Marshall might have been had Hyman succeeded in convincing the Wichita State coach to return to his roots? Maybe not (in the eyes of some long-time Gamecock supporters, anyway), but it's certainly a three-run homer at worst.

The last 72 hours or so have been filled with rumors and reports about Martin possibly moving to Columbia. GamecockCentral.com reported over the weekend that USC had sent Martin a contract.

In addition, The Sporting News, a very reputable national media outlet, reported Hyman had requested permission from KSU officials to speak with Martin. Typically, in situations such as this involving coaches, asking for permission to talk to a coach is the FINAL step in the process before consummation of a contract.

Why? Because in this Internet-driven world, almost all communications until the very end when the finish line is in sight are accomplished through third parties. That way, each side has plausible deniability.

In this case, GamecockCentral.com has reported Martin was interviewed by USC in Columbia last Monday, so there was contact between him and USC officials at some point.

Given the reports, USC and Martin are getting close. All that's left is the USC Board of Trustees approving the deal, making the announcement, parading Martin in front of the TV cameras and having him hold up the Gamecock basketball jersey for the all the world to see.

Even then, one final, last agonizing step remains: Praying Martin doesn't pull a Bobby Cremins (USC) or Gregg Marshall (College of Charleston) and back out of the deal, contending his heart is still in Manhattan. Kansas, that is, and not the Big Apple.

And that's always the fear anytime a school negotiates with a high-level coach. Is he sincerely interested in the job or he is just going through the motions as a way to shamelessly secure a lucrative extension from his current employer?

How many times have we heard a coach fake his lack of interest in another job by claiming "I haven't spoken to (insert name of the school)?"

Of course he hasn't. But his agent - or whoever he is utilizing as a go-between - has.

Four years ago, Georgetown coach John Thompson III pulled that stunt on USC, and the ploy worked perfectly. The Hoyas panicked and awarded him a new deal.

Indirectly, Martin denied contact with USC when he made an appearance on CBS on Saturday during its NCAA tournament coverage. The transcript:

"In the age of social media that we live in right now, it's crazy," Martin replied. "I was scheduled to be at a press conference today in South Carolina and I was sitting watching a show in New York City last night. And obviously I'm sitting here with you guys today, so it's … The stuff that gets out these days, I look at it as a compliment that we're doing our job the right way at Kansas State that these sort of things get out."

If I was a Kansas State fan, I wouldn't find much comfort in those words. Major college coaches are like politicians. In times like this, they say nothing in the hope people wrongly believe they're actually saying something.

Often, what a person doesn't say is more important than what they do say and this situation provides a perfect illustration of that principle. Martin has never denied interest in the USC job and clearly avoided a direct answer.

The only "rumor" he denied was a Kansas TV station report that he would appear at a press conference at USC on Saturday.

Obviously, that was never going to happen because Hyman wasn't going to be in Columbia on Saturday. He told GamecockCentral.com that he was going to Fresno, Calif., that day to watch the women's basketball team play, and Hyman would have refused the opportunity to deny the Sweet 16-bound Gamecocks their moment in the sun. he Gamecocks lost to No. 2 Stanford late Saturday.

Plus, Martin was in New York City. Geographically, it's difficult to have a press conference when the two most important principals involved are 3,000 miles apart.

So, when will the announcement Martin has been hired as basketball coach be made? Soon.

In fact, it now appears Tuesday is D-Day. The Board of Trustees is scheduled to hold a conference call at 10 a.m. in executive session to discuss a "contractual matter" and then make an announcement in open session.

Based on the timing, it clearly involves the new basketball coach. If so, there's a 99 percent chance it's Martin, and that a press conference will be held Tuesday around 1 or 2 p.m.

The second-best piece of evidence we have that a deal is imminent with Martin is the reaction of the Kansas State media. They've already moved into "Don't leave us, Frank" mode and warned of the dire consequences to fall upon athletic director John Currie should Martin depart.

Along the way, the Kansas State media has, not surprisingly, taken veiled shots at USC, describing it as an "inferior" program. They were hoping Martin was simply using USC as leverage to negotiate a sweeter deal with K-State.

In the end, though, Martin will likely land at USC with a significant pay raise from the $1.55 million per year he was earning at Kansas State, yet another sign how SEC membership is paying off handsomely for the Gamecocks.

When he formally announced Horn's firing, Hyman maintained USC was in better financial position than it was four years ago in terms of paying a head coach, and he wasn't kidding considering the tens of millions of dollars the Gamecocks have received from the conference office during that span.

It was Currie that unilaterally (he reportedly never consulted Martin) suspended senior Jamar Samuels, denying the Wildcats a golden opportunity to knock off Syracuse, the top-ranked team in their bracket, in a second-round NCAA tournament game.

Martin was livid after the season-ending (and probably tenure-ending) loss, straining an already fractured relationship from Currie, who reportedly believes in micro-managing his coaches to the point of being a nuisance.

So, what kind of coach is USC getting?

Unlike his predecessor, Martin has a track record of reaching the postseason as a coach at a BCS-level school, guiding the Wildcats to a four appearances in the NCAA tournament over a five-year span.

Martin was 117-54 in five seasons at Kansas State, winning at least 21 games in every season. His big break came in 2006 when he landed a gig as an assistant at Cincinnati under Bob Huggins.

He left to join Huggins at Kansas State for the 2006-07 season. Then Huggins left to take the West Virginia job and Martin was promoted to coach.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Considering his limited resources, Martin did a remarkable job at Kansas State. He instilled pride back into Kansas State basketball. So, the situation he will encounter at USC is not unlike the daunting task he faced when he started at Kansas State after Huggins left after just one season.

Martin is a household name - and a media darling - in college basketball circles for his sideline demeanor and brutal honesty. If you don't believe me, Google his name and spend some time watching some of his YouTube videos.

What is there not to love about a coach who rose from a hard life in Miami as the son of Cuban immigrants and was the first American-born member of his family?

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in physical education from Florida International in 1993. While attending school there, one of the jobs he held was a bouncer at a local nightclub.

Frank(ly), I like this guy already.

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D. McCallum

South Carolina NEWS


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