On the night before the biggest game of the season, and arguably the most important game of Jamar Samuels’ Kansas State career, K-State athletic director John Currie informed K-State head coach Frank Martin that Samuels wouldn’t play the next day due to a $200 payment Samuels received from former AAU coach Curtis Malone. That was the tipping point for Martin — an incident that sources say ended what was already a fractured — more so a completely broken relationship between a coach and an athletic director.
“Frank sent me a text after the Syracuse game and he said, ‘it’s very disappointing and it has nothing to do with losing,” a friend of Martin told The Mercury on Monday. “I think that whole 24-hour period when (compliance director) Jamie Vaughn and John came in and laid the hammer down on Jamar, I think that just really bothered him.
“Frank can handle stuff that just affects him, but when it affects a kid in his last college game and the biggest game of his career, he was just flat pissed.”
And with that, a volatile relationship reached a point where there were irreconcilable differences, which ultimately led to Martin leaving K-State and accepting the head-coaching job at South Carolina this morning. For all intents and purposes, this was the divorce of a damaged relationship that couldn’t be fixed.
Sources have told The Mercury that Martin’s poor relationship with Currie, and vise versa, was widely known around K-State’s inner circles.
“Most people knew for a long time the relationship was not a good one,” a source said. “I think that relationship was a combination of personality and style differences. “It was just two different people with two different approaches.”
Sources say Currie tried to change Martin, lecturing him on the use of his language during games, and in doing so, attempting to change his sideline demeanor. People close to the program noticed the change, as Martin, a man known for his fiery personality and brutal honesty, transitioned into a much calmer person this past season.
“There’s a fine line there, and I think this is always the risky part of trying to change somebody,” a source close to both the program and Martin said. “What Frank was like in his first year is much different in year five. And I think that just comes from learning more about the job and the expectations that come with being a head coach. The sharp edges Frank had have clearly smoothed themselves later in his career.
“But when you get into trying to change somebody, then you run a big risk. You’ve got to be who you are. You change somebody, then if all of a sudden that coach is no longer having success with what he thinks is the way to do his job, then of course… You’ve just got to be very careful about how far you go in changing somebody’s approach.”
This might have become an issue for Martin, perhaps feeling like he couldn’t be himself because of his boss.
“Maybe there are some things you can recommend, adjust and reinforce, but Frank Martin is Frank Martin,” the source said. “He’s always going to be a fiery guy and is always going to have an edge to him. Frank has to be who he is.
“You don’t want to fundamentally change who somebody is and how they got to where they are. Because I think that’s probably served Frank about as well as anything in terms of him surviving his years as a high school coach, an assistant coach — he’s had to have a little bit of an edge to get where he is now.”
Sources say Currie, who often sat close to K-State’s bench during road games and could be seen taking notes, micromanaged Martin to the point that his job became miserable.
“John couldn’t just accept Frank for who Frank is and that’s frustrating to me,” a friend of Martin told The Mercury. “(Currie) has tried to just cause problems from the get-go and I don’t understand that. Frank has done nothing but promote the university to the best. I don’t think he could have promoted our university better than he’s done. All Currie has done is just try to always meddle in it — making him write a letter to change his cussing habits — making him drive somewhere to recruit somebody instead of just being able to use the jet or whatever.”
It got to a point where Martin became somewhat paranoid — to where he didn’t trust Currie, and thought the athletic director was trying to run him out, another source said.
“It’s important for Frank to be able to have somebody he trusted and that he felt was loyal, which is the case for most coaches,” a source said. “Most coaches live on a little bit of an edge of paranoia and always think there’s something waiting for them around the corner. So if they don’t sense they’ve got that (loyalty and trust) within their own house so to speak, it does begin to manifest itself and show other cracks in that foundation. I certainly think that was the case with Frank and John.”
Friends of Martin say he isn’t a guy to complain and throw a pity party for himself. But they sensed he was frustrated with where he ranked among Big 12 coaches in salary. Not so much because of the money he was making, but because of what some of the other coaches who had significantly less success were being paid compared to him.
“It was more a matter of principle with Frank,” a friend said. “Not that he wants $2 million or $2.5 million. But when he looks at that list and sees he’s won 20 games five years in a row, and sees he’s not even in the upper-half of the coaches in the conference, I think that really makes him mad. I don’t think it has to do with the dollar figure, but more the principle of ‘why am I not getting paid what these other guys earn and they’re not performing nearly the same as I am? Why am I not getting paid what they are?’”
K-State fans and donors alike are angry and frustrated about the entire situation, and some have told The Mercury they’re going to hit Currie where it counts most — in the pocket book.
“I said (to a K-State administrator) ‘you tell Currie if he runs Frank off you’ve gotten the last dollar from me,’” a prominent K-State donor said. “He said, ‘I’ll tell him. I’ve heard that before.’
“I’d hate for John to realize if it came down to K-Staters to make a choice between him and Frank, I think he’d be sadly informed it’d be about 9-1 Frank over him.”
That sentiment was echoed by another big K-State booster on Monday afternoon.
“I’m really upset about this,” the donor said. “I always reserve my opinion because there’s usually two sides of the story, but if it’s what I’m reading right now you’re damn right I want (Currie) gone.
“I sent them some money — a small percent of what I normally give on Friday — and told them they weren’t going to get any more of my money until we got this deal resolved with Martin.”
This has created an ugly situation for Currie. But there are people who will take Currie’s side, understanding that fans often side with a successful coach over an athletic director.
“John didn’t really have much of a chance in this situation,” a source said. “Because here’s Frank, a beloved figure, a blue-collar guy who really connects with the typical K-Stater. I think of K-Staters as the guys who roll up their sleeves and go to work every day and that’s how Frank came across, so they’re going to immediately connect with Frank in a way that I don’t know anybody will ever connect with John Currie in that fashion.
“In this situation, it’s not surprising most people would be on Frank’s side in this. They don’t know Currie well enough like they know Frank. All they see is it’s back to this world of Asbury/Wooldridge and basketball is going to be irrelevant like before. They immediately see the return to the bad days. I can see where that’d be the reaction. It’s an unfortunate situation for all involved.”