From the day I was born until I graduated high school, I lived in Rossville, Kan., a small town just 40 minutes east of Manhattan. I grew up in a Kansas State family, so for much of my childhood, I jumped in the car with my parents and my older brother, headed down Highway 24 and attended K-State men’s basketball games. And you know what? There wasn’t a better feeling in the world to me — but most of the time, it was that drive home that was just brutal.
Far too many times during the 1990s and early 2000s, I left Bramlage Coliseum with a feeling of disappointment. I witnessed big leads melt away into losses. I watched Drew Lavender, a 5-foot-7 point guard for Oklahoma, hit a circus shot at the buzzer to beat the Wildcats, sending the Oklahoma players and coaches storming off the floor in jubilation. And yes, I was even in attendance at a couple of those trouncings the University of Kansas put on the Wildcats over the past couple of decades. It wasn’t fun in any way, shape or form.
Still, throughout the Tom Asbury and the Jim Wooldridge eras, I maintained a false sense of optimism. I yearned to see the program succeed so much that I convinced myself each year, and each game, that the men’s basketball program had a chance to find success — that this would be the year everything would turn around. That never happened.
For more than a decade, I, like so many of you who are reading this, were first-hand witnesses to one of the most dormant times in K-State basketball.
Since those days, I’ve transitioned from being a fan to becoming a neutral observer. But writing about losing isn’t a fun thing, I can assure you of that. Nor is hearing the disappointment from the voices of your family and friends after a K-State loss. So even though I now watch the game with my natural blue eyes instead of the purple-tinted glasses I used to observe everything from, it’s still fun to watch the program succeed. Because at 25 years old, watching K-State basketball win at a high rate still feels new to me.
That’s a credit to Frank Martin, who, over the last five years, has instilled pride once again into K-State fans in regards to men’s basketball. That disappointing, sinking feeling that used to happen so often before his arrival occurs a lot less frequently now because of him.
And that’s why John Currie’s biggest task at hand right now, at this very moment, is to ensure that Martin is happy — to make sure the man who has turned the basketball program around, doesn’t bolt for an inferior program.
Currie, in his third year as the K-State athletic director, has done a remarkable job. He’s cleaned up a nightmare of a mess that resulted from the controversial “secret contract” involving former football coach Ron Prince and former athletic director Bob Krause. In doing so, he’s turned the Wildcats into one of the more profitable athletic departments in the country.
He and his staff have raised the funding for an elite basketball training facility that’s set to be done in a few months, and Currie has also launched the plans for the biggest athletics project in school history — a complete overhaul of the west side of Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
But if Martin leaves K-State for any job that appears to be an inferior one — one that is a step down from K-State — then it will cast a dark cloud over Currie’s tenure here. Reports/rumors have circulated this week regarding Martin having interest in the head-coaching vacancy at South Carolina. One media outlet in South Carolina has gone as far to say a deal with Martin “is 90 percent done.”
Martin has said he hasn’t talked to anyone, but that’s not to say his agent, Richard Katz, hasn’t been listening and talking to other programs such as South Carolina. There’s been talk around Manhattan that Martin and Currie don’t see eye-to-eye — that there’s a rift between them.
And that talk picks up steam when Martin’s name is popping up with a job like South Carolina. While the intention here is not to insult the Gamecocks’ program, it must occur to hammer home a point. You must understand, first, that Martin is big on tradition. It’s something he’s often brought up in my conversations with him when I ask how they rebuilt this program. He raves about K-State’s past success and said that was a key factor in knowing that if they started to win, the fans would buy in and would start to come back.
I’m not quite certain that’s the case at South Carolina, where football and baseball seem to rule the land. At the risk of sounding harsh, tradition is not a word associated with South Carolina basketball.
• The Gamecocks have played in just eight NCAA tournaments in school history. K-State has played in 26 NCAA tournaments.
• South Carolina has advanced to the Sweet 16 just three times, while K-State has advanced past the round of 32 on 16 occasions.
• South Carolina has never made an Elite Eight appearance, and obviously, as a result, never played in a Final Four. K-State has been to the Elite Eight 12 times and the Final Four on four different occasions.
So if there’s truly interest from Martin in this job, then something doesn’t add up. K-State returns all but one starter next season, will likely be picked to finish in the top four of the Big 12 once again, and has a state-of-the art training facility set to open soon. So why is this conversation even coming up right now? You can read between the lines for that answer.
Martin hasn’t flat-out denied interest in the South Carolina opening when it has been brought up, and there’s a good chance he’s simply using the Gamecocks as leverage to get a sweeter contract at K-State (his contract is up for renegotiation). Whatever the case may be, Currie needs to make sure Martin is happy, because you can’t pay him enough money for what he’s worth to this university.
Not only do Martin’s teams win, but he’s also a media darling. People across the country love his demeanor and brutal honesty. All of that brings national attention to K-State, which is incredibly valuable.
So give him $2 million a year and cast aside any differences, because finding a good basketball coach who can consistently win isn’t easy to do.
Kentucky and North Carolina, two of college basketball’s blue bloods, have had coaching hires fail miserably in the not-so-distant past (Billy Gillispie at Kentucky; Matt Doherty at UNC). When K-State hired Asbury in 1994, he was one of the hot names around the country. Wildcat fans were excited about the hire. Six seasons later, he was fired.
The point is: there’s no sure thing — there’s no coaching hire that you can definitively say with certainty it’s a home-run hire, unless you get Bill Self, John Calipari, Jim Boeheim and on down the list. There are only a select few of those guys, and they aren’t coming to K-State. So there’s a lot of risk involved in the hiring process.
K-State would be best suited to avoid that risk and ensure that Martin remains the head coach of its university. Because if he’s gone, there’s a chance those gloomy days of the 1990s and early 2000s, return. And that’s not fun to think about.