The career of University of South Carolina head basketball coach Frank Martin has a few moments destined for the top 10 highlight reel. First, there was the improbable rise of his Kansas State program to the highest echelons of March Madness, not once but thrice. Then, there was the day he announced his departure from the beloved, very successful Big 12 program to rebuild an equally beloved but struggling SEC basketball program. And, of course, there’s his no-holds-barred courtside manner including his trademark … suit.
Frank, 46, arrived in Columbia in March from Manhattan, Kan., but his calendar hasn’t left him with much time to explore his new hometown. “I really haven’t gotten out too much since I’ve been here. That’s my fault,” he laughs.
He set about the business of rebuilding the program immediately. That meant Anya, his wife, and their three children — Brandon, 13, who also lives in Miami part-time; Amalia, 7; and, Christian, 5 — had to stay behind to finish the school year. They were finally reunited in May. “My family came here Memorial Day weekend. We live out in the Northeast part of town. We love it and have been real happy with the area. It’s very friendly for kids,” he says.
“South Carolina is very similar to the Midwest,” he says. “Family values are important and home is very important, too. The hospitality we’ve experienced here has been awesome. The way people have welcomed our family has been just incredible.”
So what led him here in the first place? “The challenge,” Frank says. “Great coaches have had success here. This was an opportunity to rebuild the program.” He is also quite taken with the Gamecock Nation. “It’s unbelievable!” he says. “The fans here have so much passion. The more I see, the more excited I get about rebuilding their program.”
But making the decision to come to Columbia wasn’t easy. “My family loved where we were. Our youngest was born there so it was a difficult decision, absolutely,” he says. “But as fast as everything happened, we still took a lot of time to come to the decision.”
While that decision has been keeping him very busy, he and Anya have found a lot to like about their new city. “There are so many different restaurants and different types of food. We love the variety and the choices in the area,” he says. “Anya and I have been to Stonefire Grill a few times. It’s close to home, but that’s not the only reason why we go there. The food is great.”
Married to his wife for eight years, Frank grins in reminiscing over their courtship. He says she finally accepted a dinner invitation after having turned him down seven times. “Seven is probably an understatement,” he laughs. “I actually had to trick her. She was assistant director of financial aid at Northeastern University, which meant she worked closely with the basketball program where I was an assistant coach. She thought the whole basketball staff was going to take her out for dinner to thank her for all of her work now that the season had ended.”
She later told him that she was originally going to cancel the evening, but she waited too late and then felt bad about skipping the dinner. So when she showed up, she was surprised to discover it was just the two of them. What could have been a social disaster turned out to be a love in bloom.
“The next day, I sent her a dozen Nicole roses,” Frank recalls. “They are very different than normal roses; the blooms are bigger. After that, Anya agreed to go out with me again.”
With their marriage, Anya joined the unique family life and lifestyle of a coaching family — one that comes with a lot of alone time and a whole bench of kids who aren’t her own. Frank is quick to share that the life of “Mrs. Coach” isn’t for all women. “It takes a very special wife. She is so understanding, so supportive, but when she sees I’m paying too much attention to the job, she steps in,” he says. “I respect her for that. She is honest with me.”
Having lost his father at the tender age of 9, Frank embraced becoming a parent with a greater appreciation than most. “Not having my dad around was such a void in my life,” he says. “I knew I didn’t want to use those feelings as a negative – a crutch. So I tried to learn how important being a dad is.”
He essentially ignored his biological clock, instead focusing on the work of being ready to become not just a father, but a good father. “I was in no rush because I wanted to be ready – emotionally, mentally,” he says. “Fatherhood is the biggest gift I have been given, and I am a father three times over. Plus, I’m a dad to all the guys on the team. It’s a responsibility that I treasure.”
Like every parent, he enjoys watching his children grow up, but his favorite part is seeing them grow smarter and stronger. “It’s amazing to see how they learn to deal with adversity,” Frank says. “When they’re young, they want to rebel, fight, find an easy way out. If we teach them right, they’ll learn how to cope in ways that aren’t so negative. They’ll actually want to learn and get better.” He adds, “First, it’s such a tremendous growth period. Then, you get to watch them as they practice what they’ve learned. It’s just incredible.”
The delicate family tree that comes with becoming a father figure to a team full of players creates interesting dynamics. As the team incurs additions and subtractions each season, flexibility is needed. Even after years in coaching and at schools from Florida to Kansas, Frank feels the gift each player leaves behind. “There are just so many ups and downs in what we do. We learn to stick together,” he says.
Despite being a National Coach of the Year runner-up and winner of the Big 12 Coach of the Year, Frank is no stranger to empty-nest syndrome — that vortex of emotion that every parent faces and endures as their child’s wings become fully formed and they fly. “On senior night, when I see them out on the floor, I know it’s the last time they’ll be there,” he says. But deeper than that, like a parent, he sees and feels so much more. “I look at them and know all they’ve sacrificed for me and for the program. Then, as a coach, I realize how each player helped me become a better coach. The void they leave never fills because no two people are the same. It’s a cycle that never ends.”
And, just like a parent, Frank hopes his players take away life lessons that will benefit them long after they hang up their basketball jerseys. “I want them to know, if they believe in themselves, they can accomplish a lot. It’s never easy, but it’s doable,” he says. “My job is not to help them get a job. My job is to help them learn to keep a job. Getting a job isn’t being a man. You have to be man enough to keep a job.”
So if Frank isn’t on a basketball court, out to dinner with Anya or hanging out with his kids, where’s one place he might be found? Twitter. Frank (@FrankMartin_SC) isn’t just a bona-fide “tweeter.” With more than 24,000 followers, he’s got a verified account. And — tweet this — he digs it! “I first started using Twitter so I could understand it. It’s part of today’s society. I knew I had to teach my players and my own children how to manage it,” he says. Then I saw it was such a great tool for getting a message out. I can connect directly with people on things like who I am, my thoughts. They don’t have to come through a third party.”
But don’t expect to find Frank live-tweeting reruns of Jersey Shore or posting pictures of what he ate for breakfast. As the leader for an entire university athletic program — a Southeastern Conference program at that — he savors the job and the responsibility that comes along with it. “A whole lot of people depend on me and my decisions,” he acknowledges. “I am so blessed. My responsibility is to lead, and I embrace that every single day.”
He is quick to share that while he loves what he does, the global environment itself could stand a close re-examination of what’s really important. “There’s way too much credit on wins and losses,” he points out. “What is important is that we’re putting winning people out there. We’re so judged by wins and losses. That isn’t education; that’s a statistic. If we help people grow and become winners that’s what really matters.”
A charming husband, doting father and steadfast coach, Frank Martin is a class act of a coach who cares as much about character as the fundamentals of basketball.