More Latinos in “Unexpected” Sports: A Brief Discussion of the Career of Frank Martin and Spanish-Surnamed Basketball Coaches

by Jorge Iber, PhD Texas Tech University

In a previous blog, I discussed the story of E.C. Lerma, one of the first Mexican American high school football (and basketball and track) coaches in the history of the state of Texas. His career during the late 1930s though the middle of the 1960s provided coaches, teachers, and athletes in Duval County, and elsewhere throughout the Lone Star State, with an opportunity to see a Latino in a professional role; a rarity at that time. Over his almost three decades in the profession, Lerma served as a mentor to his athletes, students, and the broader community in this region and throughout the rest of the state.

While the success and historical significance of Coach Lerma are undeniable, it is important to note the efforts of men and women of this background who have begun to break down barriers in the field of coaching at a broader (national) level. For example, it is significant to look into the life and career of an individual such as Miguel (Mike) Gonzalez, a Cuban American who was the first Latino to manage (on a temporary basis—for a total of 16 games) a Major League team (the St. Louis Cardinals in 1938). Other personages worthy of study are Augie Garrido, who has been extremely successful as head coach of the University of Texas Longhorns’ baseball program (and elsewhere). Yet another is Pat Corrales, the first Mexican American to serve as manager at the Major League level (with the Texas Rangers).

Frank Martin Wikimedia Commons.

Frank Martin, Wikimedia Commons.

Obviously, there are many more such stories, in baseball and other sports, worthy of study. In this blog, I would like to focus attention on a concerted effort currently underway to increase the presence of Latinos as coaches and players in the field of collegiate basketball. One of the key persons involved in this effort is Coach Frank Martin of the University of South Carolina.

Martin’s story is an exceptional study of the significance of athletics in the life of a Latino, in his case, a Cuban American. He was born and raised in the Little Havana area of the city of Miami and in the mid-1970s his father abandoned the family and Frank, his siblings, and mother Lourdes had to scramble to make ends meet. That meant the young Frank started working in local restaurants washing dishes and pots and pans at an early age. His first job was making change at a pool hall at age 12. He eventually earned a degree in Physical Education from Florida International University in 1993 and was the JV coach at his alma mater, Miami High for more than a decade. From there, he went on to have great success and lead the Stingarees’ varsity to several state titles. Ultimately, he was forced from that position under suspicion for recruiting players; a charge which he has consistently denied and has never been confirmed.[1]

In many ways, this was but another challenge for Martin, who eventually used the strong work ethic developed in Little Havana to get other high school jobs in Florida, and finally a post as an assistant coach at Northeastern University (2000-2004). There, his passion for the Xs and Os drew attention from Bob Huggins, then head coach at the University of Cincinnati. Huggins took Martin under his wing and utilized his tenaciousness as a recruiter to further build the Bearcat program. When Huggins was forced out of Ohio in 2005, he landed at Kansas State University the following year. Martin followed his mentor to Manhattan and there, the two helped build momentum for the Wildcats’ program. Soon KSU had improved greatly and even landed several major high school stars; such as Bill Walker and Michael Beasley. Just as things were going well, the job at West Virginia, Huggins’ alma mater, came open. Not surprisingly, Huggins accepted the position to become head coach of the Mountaineers.

When his guide left for Morgantown, Martin was, unexpectedly, given the opportunity to take over the program in Manhattan. At first, the reaction was less than positive. Who was this guy? He had never been a head coach at a D1 level, had been involved in “issues” at the high school level back in Miami, and, most importantly, many Wildcat fans wondered, how would a Latino manage a basketball program in a sleepy little Midwestern town? Between the years 2007 and 2012, Martin showed the folks in the Big 12 what he could do, turning the Wildcats into a perennial conference powerhouse and making several trips to the NCAA Tournament, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2009-2010. Although Martin brought much success and recognition to the KSU program, there was still a feeling of uneasiness with his style: which is fiery and intense, to say the least. A question that some have asked is whether Martin’s fiery demeanor is questioned more for the fact that he is Latino than for his on-court behavior.[2]

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season Martin decided to move to the University of South Carolina, which had just fired their head coach, Darrin Horn, after a miserable 10-21 (and 2-14 in conference) season.[3] Martin has, over the past three years, begun to improve the Gamecock’s on-court fortunes. His 2014-2015 team finished with a 17-16 mark, and scored an impressive upset over Ole Miss in the second round of the SEC tournament. Unfortunately, USC did not get an invitation to the NIT. Martin and his players were disappointed, but he and they are using this as further motivation for next year.[4]

In addition to his success on the court, Martin has pushed relentlessly to improve access to coaching opportunities for other individuals of his background to move in the ranks of collegiate basketball (as well as recruiting Latino talent for the court). Currently, there are only two Hispanic head coaches at the D1 level: Martin, and Dominicano Orlando Antigua (former John Calipari assistant at Kentucky) at the University of South Florida. There are several others who are working as assistants, such as Mike Baldano at Louisville, Sergio Rouco at South Florida, and Rick Cabrera at Tennessee Tech. In order to improve the odds, Martin and Jason Ludwig (director of basketball operations at Arizona State) have worked to establish the Latino Association of Basketball Coaches. Martin argues that this entity, which is now up to approximately 50 members, is “a natural progression with the influence of Latinos and Hispanics in every walk of life as the population starts to shift.” This organization is designed to work as a networking and mentoring association so that doors are open, if just a crack, to the next generation of Latino coaches. As Baldano noted recently, “there’s not a lot of Hispanic coaches, so if you look at it that way, you really have to make sure you do the best job you can in your first job to help pave the way for the other young guys.” With Martin and Antigua already in place, there are two significant role models to lead this effort.[5]

I have been in contact with Coach Martin (when he was at KSU and they visited Texas Tech) and Jason Ludwig at Arizona State, and look forward to working with them to continue to flesh out this story. Hopefully, future blogs by this author will provide further insight into the development of a pipeline of Latino basketball coaches at the collegiate level. As Martin argues, “I’ve got a different perspective of minority hiring. As long as we don’t have minority presidents and minority {athletic directors}, you won’t have minority coaches, whether it’s Hispanic or whatever other nationality.”[6]

Jorge Iber is Associate Dean in the Student Division and Professor of History at Texas Tech University. He can be reached at jorge.iber@ttu.edu.


Notes:

[1] Bill Reiter, “Man on Fire,” Kansas City Star, January 13, 2008, C1 and C7. See also: Olivia Blanco Mullins, “Frank Martin: Family Man” K-Stater, Summer 2009, 22-27.

[2] Robert Cassidy, “The Good Fight: Let the Critics be Darned, Frank Martin and His Crew of Assistant Coaches Are Determined to Rebuild the Glory of K-State Basketball,” Powecat Illustrated, November-December, 2009, 8-11.

[3] “Frank Martin Becomes USC Head Basketball Coach,” report by WLTX, March 28, 2012.

[4] “An Interview with South Carolina Coach Frank Martin,” ASAPSports, March 13, 2015. See: archives (3/13/15) at ASAPSports.com.

[5] Kellis Robinett, “Martin Brings Top Latino Talent to Kansas State,” Kansas City Star, February 25, 2010. See: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/02/25/v-print/1774538/martin-brings-top-latino-talent.html. Accessed on February 26, 2010. See also: Myron Medcalf, “Opening Doors for Hispanic Coaches,” October 3, 2014, http://www.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=11616806&type=story. Accessed on February 24, 2015 and “Frank Martin’s Game Has Bounce,” December 15, 2014, http://www.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=12034155&type=story.

[6] Myron Medcalf, “Opening Doors for Hispanic Coaches,” October 3, 2014, http://www.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=11616806&type=story. Accessed on February 24, 2015.

One thought on “More Latinos in “Unexpected” Sports: A Brief Discussion of the Career of Frank Martin and Spanish-Surnamed Basketball Coaches

  1. Pingback: Remembering Super Bowl 50 through a Mestiz@ Sport Consciousness | Sport in American History

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