‘You’ve got to have an identity’: New men’s basketball coach Frank Martin introduces himself to UMass community

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  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin was introduced at a press conference at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin enters his introductory press conference along with his wife Anya, a UMass alum, at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin enters his introductory press conference along with his wife Anya, a UMass alum, at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anya Martin, Frank Martin's wife and a UMass alum, responds to the introduction made by Ryan Bamford, the UMass athletic director, during a press conference introducing Frank Martin as the UMass men's basketball coach on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anya Martin, Frank Martin's wife and a UMass alum, responds to the introduction made by Ryan Bamford, the UMass athletic director, during a press conference introducing Frank Martin as the UMass men's basketball coach on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin was introduced at a press conference at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin was introduced at a press conference at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford and Frank Martin pose for a photo during the press conference introducing Martin as the UMass men's basketball coach on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin was introduced at a press conference at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anya Martin, Frank Martin's wife and a UMass alum, responds to the introduction made by Ryan Bamford, the UMass athletic director, during a press conference introducing Frank Martin as the UMass men's basketball coach on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin enters his introductory press conference along with his wife Anya, a UMass alum, at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2022 4:11:35 PM
Modified: 3/29/2022 4:10:39 PM

AMHERST – New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin extended his introductory news conference for one final statement after moderators took the last question. He told a story about a message he received from former Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia during a three-game losing streak late in South Carolina’s SEC season.

Bisaccia texted him, “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘you cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’ We’re going to be the storm”

Martin, who was fired by the University of South Carolina on March 14, was introduced as the 15th head coach in UMass men’s basketball history Tuesday at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center after being hired Friday. He agreed to a five-year contract with an average salary of $1.65 million per season. That will come from a combination of salary, media and other compensation and retention bonuses, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said. He’ll be the highest-paid public employee in Massachusetts, edging Michael F. Collins, the chancellor of UMass’ medical school ($1.34 million).

Bamford joked that Martin earned his first bonus by showing up to the introductory press conference.

“That doesn't always happen,” Bamford said in reference to his last men’s basketball coaching search in 2017. UMass thought it had hired Pat Kelsey and set up an introductory event like Tuesday, but Kelsey backed out and returned to Winthrop. Bamford went with Matt McCall, who led the Minutemen until the school announced it was parting ways with him March 1. McCall still coached UMass’ final four games, leading the Minutemen to a 3-1 record while Bamford began searching for his replacement.

Bamford had a prior relationship with Martin. His wife Anya is a UMass alum that set records for the track and field team. They’ve gotten together at Final Fours, which function as a college basketball coaching and administrating conference.

“Having that relationship in advance was a real asset to try and talk to him about this opportunity,” Bamford said.

He first reached out to Martin the day the news broke out of South Carolina. Bamford told him he was sorry to hear, first of all, then told him he was interested in having a conversation knowing he would need time to process his tenure with the Gamecocks ending.

“He’s a giant in our business,” Bamford said. 

Martin told Bamford he was interested, as well, but he needed to take a day to himself. He was also working as a television analyst for CBS and needed to honor those commitments before they could speak.

“He was a really important candidate for us,” Bamford said. “We were pretty intentional about our commitment to him and to what we can do here.”

Martin has brought success wherever he’s been a head coach. He led Kansas State to an Elite 8 among four trips to the NCAA Tournament in five years form 2007-2012. His 10-year tenure at South Carolina featured a Final Four trip in 2017 and the two winningest seasons in program history.

“We’re going to be lunch pail, blue collar basketball,” said Martin, a child of Cuban immigrants that worked as a school teacher, landscaper and bouncer, among others, while starting his coaching career. “We are relentless. You’ve got to have an identity when you play a sport. You can’t be a different person every day. There’s going to be an identity of toughness, being relentless and a defensive-minded approach.”

Being able to craft that identity is one of the main attributes that attracted Bamford to Martin. UMass has been in the basketball wilderness over its past decade or so since making the NCAA Tournament in 2014 under Derek Kellogg following two trips to the NIT. The Minutemen have finished above .500 just twice: 2014-15 and 2020-21 — the latter a COVID-shortened season where they only played 15 games.

“I want to see this program have an identity. If I talk to people, the one thing prep school coaches, grass roots coaches (said), it was ‘we don’t know what UMass’ identity has been in the past,’” Bamford said. “We knew with (former) coach (John Calipari) what the identity was. We haven’t known that recently. With Frank you get the identity. You know what our program’s going to be.”

Martin arrived in Amherst on Sunday night. He met briefly with the remaining UMass players that still have eligibility and ran them through a quick, 30-minute practice to get to know them. He told them, “this isn’t for you, this is for me. It’s what I’ve done my whole life. I need to get on the court and be a teacher.”

That was his first order of business. His next two are to retain some of those players at UMass and build a staff.

“You recruit your players on your campus every day when you show them that you care,” he said. “I’ve got to understand them, they’ve got to understand me, and we’ve got to become the best version of us that we can be.”

His staff could come from people he worked with at South Carolina, former UMass coaches or coaches he has a previous relationship with. UMass director of basketball operations Ricky Harris, one of the greatest shooters in program history, attended the press conference with four UMass players: Noah Fernandes, Dibaji Walker, Ryan Marcus and Javohn Garcia.

“The most important thing, to me, is to get to know the people here and to get to know the players,” Martin said. “Now it’s time to start building the people around me.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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