VIDEO: Frank Martin
Frank Martin held the South Carolina ballcap in his hand, the black matching his severe suit and the garnet trim shadowing the snazzy silk tie embedded with the same Block C logo that adorned the cap's crest. He smirked at it with the same smoldering eyes that have made him a darling of ESPN and YouTube.
"Did coach Spurrier get one of these or did he get a visor?," he asked.
The room packed with media and well-wishers chuckled. Martin didn't smile often as he officially took over the Gamecocks' basketball program, but he left no doubt with powerful words in a one-hour press conference.
It's time for a change. And he's the man who will oversee it.
"What you see on six seconds on ESPN is nothing like I really am," Martin said, knowing the mouth-agape, screaming tantrums that he sometimes has on the sideline have painted a popular picture of him. "I'm not going to change my persona, I'm not going to change my passion for kids.
"I looked at Steve Spurrier, Ray Tanner, Dawn Staley. Those are three people that can coach anywhere in the country. They've chosen South Carolina. They've chosen the University of South Carolina. I kept looking at that and I said, 'I want this challenge.'"
He has it. Martin agreed to a six-year contract that will pay him $1.9 million in 2012-13 before escalating to $2 million in 2013-14 and $2.1 million for the duration of the deal (full details here: Click).
His task - restore USC basketball to what it was when another Frank M. guided the program and was feared and respected throughout the nation. The 32 years since Frank McGuire hung up his whistle have had some bright spots but have mostly been a slide into less than mediocrity, with its last example a bitter 10-21 season where the Gamecocks set a school low with a 2-14 SEC record.
Martin, after taking Kansas State to four NCAA tournaments and one NIT in five seasons (and having never lost in the first round of either), openly spoke about his love for the program he left but also of what he was taking on. "I got to say thank you to Kansas State, that community, that administration, those players, who all believed in who I was," Martin said. "But I needed to be leading that Gamecock charge to elevate our basketball program to where it needs to be."
Martin said it had been a whirlwind 48 hours and credited athletic director Eric Hyman's full-court press that got him hired. "I'm engaged in talks with Eric and at the same time, I'm doing national television," he said.
GamecockCentral.com first reported that Martin was expressing interest in the job on March 19, after sources claimed that Martin had interviewed that day in Columbia. GamecockCentral.com was able to confirm that on March 23, and first reported on March 24 that a contract had been sent to Martin.
Martin denied talking to USC officials on March 23 through a text message sent to multiple media outlets while he was helping with TV analysis of the NCAA tournament. Hyman kept discussing the job and the more Martin thought about it, the more he wanted to be a part of it.
"I can't tell you how excited I am," Martin said. "I love challenges. Some people run away from challenges, I run to challenges. I've been doing it my whole life."
After USC's Board of Trustees approved Martin's contract at around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the coach was introduced at Colonial Life Arena. He becomes the seventh coach since McGuire retired in 1980 to try and restore the prominence that McGuire sustained in the 1970s.
Martin was introduced in the Frank McGuire Club, the same room in which Hyman announced the firing of predecessor Darrin Horn two weeks ago and the same room where Horn was introduced in 2008. The cutout of Horn that had graced the upper level of the room had been removed.
"A lot of credit to Darrin Horn," Martin said. "He has instilled some responsibilities in place. He did a lot of good. There are some good kids in the program that have been held accountable, that have represented this school well, except in that win column. It's my duty to get that part."
Martin has already met the Gamecocks team that he inherits, but it was a brief meeting. He will meet with the staff on Wednesday and gauge what they are thinking, then begin making moves.
"It's a great day to be a Gamecock," Hyman said. "We are committed to having a viable men's basketball program. We want to have a basketball program that mirrors what we've been able to do in football, baseball and women's basketball."
Martin teaches an up-tempo frenetic style, built on defense and intensity. While he made no promises of a five-year plan or number of wins he wants to have, he swore that USC would represent USC proudly, and reflect himself. The Gamecocks will not back down, and will be competitive.
"The one thing I can promise as your basketball coach, is that every time we get on the floor, we will play the game the right way," Martin said. "Our guys will be known as the hardest-playing team in America. There isn't an out on that."
Former USC coach Eddie Fogler was instrumental in the search to find Martin, although Fogler did not comment afterward. Hyman met with Fogler, former player and local radio host Carey Rich and local high-school coach Tim Whipple before the hiring process, seeking an outline of what USC needed.
"We were there to create a profile," Rich said. "Based on that profile, we know that Frank Martin fits it."
Martin has a chore to perform. The Gamecocks slipped for three years under Horn, and while last year's team was competitive, it didn't improve as the year progressed. Martin has to try and keep the talent in place - there are no definites in terms of players transferring, but in a coaching change, there are usually some - and then replace what he loses.
He also has to bring the enthusiasm back to cavernous Colonial Life, an 18,000-seat barn that is often too big for the basketball it hosts. It has had just four sellouts for a game since it opened.
Yet Martin wasn't fazed. Kansas State was in the wilderness of mediocrity before he arrived under the wing of Bob Huggins, and he took over when Huggins left after a year. The Wildcats won, won in the postseason and graduated their players, improving the school's Academic Progress Rate by 103 points in five years.
Martin was ready to go on Tuesday.
That's the most difficult thing I've ever had to do in my life, was to make this decision," Martin said. "I like challenges, I get invigorated by the challenge. Getting this program back to where it belongs is my challenge.
"We're getting ready to go on a ride here. And it's going to be a fun ride. It's not always going to be great, but when you hit the bottom of that rollercoaster, you know that turn's about to send you back up."
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