Bruce Weber isn’t Frank Martin. In fact, he’s the anti-Frank Martin.
And for some, that’s all that matters.
The idea that Martin wouldn’t be stomping around the sidelines anymore, combined with a nonconference schedule packed with mid-major and worse teams, has been enough for some to turn up their noses to the Wildcats’ new coach.
Think about it this way: Martin was thought of by many to be blue collar, fitting the Kansas State ideals as well as Bill Snyder does. After his first season, he took guys that might not have been the best on the floor and made them outwork and outhustle their opponents.
He built a stingy, defensive-minded team that forced other teams to bring their best on most nights. He also liked to curse. He said things that officials, players and fans alike might not even say to their worst enemy. He had a fiery passion, and he became a national sensation because of it.
Weber, whose team plays UMKC at Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday at 6 p.m. on FSN, is the opposite of Martin. Weber is different and wanted different. He changed the offense, and the defensive intensity changed too.
He never gets too excited during games, and he always comes across as the nice guy. Martin could leave TV reporters in fear on his way to the locker room. Weber leaves them with a smile or waiting for a thank you card.
Martin never settled for mediocrity, excuses or losses. When the Wildcats lost to Michigan in the NIT final, Weber seemed almost passive, knowing K-State could make up for it later.
It wasn’t until the Wildcats lost to Gonzaga, a carbon-copy of their loss to the Wolverines, that Weber started showing some fire.
Weber was mad at the way his team played against the Bulldogs, and he let them know it.
“I was disappointed,” he said. “I hope they were, but at the same time it’s a long journey, it’s a process.”
That fire, along with the greater understanding of the Wildcats’ offensive playbook, helped the team get it’s first marquee win of the season last Saturday, with a 67-61 win over Florida.
It was a different environment for the Wildcats — an NBA-style arena in the Sprint Center, packed with more than 16,000 fans and more than 95 percent wearing purple — than what they’ve grown accustomed to playing in. Attendance for games at Bramlage Coliseum has been far lower than the reported 12,000-plus this season, and players have often asked where the fans are.
Where they’re at is a hard question to answer, and an even harder one for K-State to ask. The answers will vary. Some dislike athletic director John Currie’s choice in Weber, who had just been fired for his failures at Ilinois. Some fault Currie for not being able to keep Martin. Others have been more consumed with the football success this season, and will start to show up after the Wildcats’ Fiesta Bowl appearance next week.
But could the Wildcats have done better than Weber? That’s an even tougher question to answer.
Martin could have stayed at K-State, but it wasn’t a fit for him anymore. He needed a different setting within the athletic department, and sought a change of scenery knowing that it wouldn’t be shifting at K-State.
The dynamics of the relationship between Martin and Currie, we may never truly understand.
As loved as Martin was by some, he made the decision to leave. And put in the position to hire someone new, Currie chose a coach who had taken a team to the Final Four. Not bad.
Many still wish Martin was here, and others would argue that he would have the team playing better to this point and even holding a better record. But debating over which coach would have a better record to this point of the season is pointless now. Weber is the coach, and Martin isn’t — and he isn’t coming back.
Like it or not, Weber did something Martin never did in his career at K-State with that win over Florida. It was the first time the Wildcats beat a Top 10 team in nonconference play since 1981.
Weber isn’t satisfied, though.
“This is one win,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go. I’m not sure the light is totally on with these guys, but it’s flickering right now.”