After a 15-17 season that ended with a second-round loss in the Atlantic-10 tournament, UMass Amherst athletic director Ryan Bamford decided a change was necessary to get the men’s basketball program back on track. Head coach Matt McCall was relieved of his duties even before the A-10 tournament got started. McCall stayed on and finished the job which ended with a loss to Dayton in the second round of the tournament. As with any program that is looking for a new direction, a national search was conducted to find the possible right fit for the program.
A similar story was playing out at the University of South Carolina where a disappointing season meant a head coaching change was in order. Frank Martin was the man in charge of the Gamecock program for the past ten years. During his tenure there, the Gamecocks had some success in both the Southeastern Conference and in the NCAA tournament. But from time to time, the same voice saying the same things starts to have little effect. That appears to be what happened in South Carolina as Martin was let go at season ends. He did not stay unemployed for very long. UMass Amherst came calling, and Martin answered last Friday. In doing so, he will take his 15 years of college head coaching experience to Amherst to try and turn things around for the Minutemen. He will be formally introduced at a press conference that is scheduled for 10 AM on Tuesday, March 29.
Martin’s prior two head coaching jobs were both with power-5 conference schools. He began his college coaching career at Kansas State, in 2007-08 he took the program over and would take them to the tournament in four of the five years he was there. The 07-08 season was the first time that K-State was in the field of 64 since 1996. That season was also highlighted by a win over then #2 Kansas for the first time since 1983. In 2009-2010, Martin guided Kansas State to a 29-8 record and a trip to the Elite-8. He would be named Big-12 coach of the year for that season. However, sustaining that became a difficult task, and after five pretty good years with the Wildcats program, Martin and the school parted ways.
Martin landed in Columbia, SC before the 2014-15 season got underway. It did not take him long to get South Carolina into the upper division of the SEC. In 2015-16 the Gamecocks went 25-9, which would match the program high for wins in a season. They would get as high as #15 in the USA Today coaches poll. The following year, the Gamecocks broke the program record for wins by recording 26 in 2016-17. They also went on their best tournament run since 1973. They made the school’s first-ever appearance in the Sweet 16, Elite-8, and the Final Four. Martin would be named the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year for that season.
UMass Amherst is hoping that Martin can bring back a program that has dipped somewhat in the Atlantic-10 in recent years. But it will not be easy. The hockey team has become the main draw at the school recently based on winning a national championship two years ago. Getting students and people in general excited about basketball is going to be his first priority while he tries to rebuild the program through recruiting. A lot is being asked of Frank Martin, so let’s see if he can deliver.
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