Column: UMass AD Ryan Bamford gets his man in new coach Frank Martin

  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin talks to the audience during his introductory press conference in Amherst on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2022 5:37:11 PM

In the end, Ryan Bamford got his man.

That hasn’t always been the case during his tenure as athletic director at the University of Massachusetts — Pat Kelsey says hello — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a negative word written about the person Bamford ultimately secured to be the school’s next men’s basketball coach.

I’d imagine Bamford didn’t get much sleep during the month of March. When the school announced they were parting ways with Matt McCall back on March 1, the pressure was on for Bamford to bring in a coach that could re-energize a wilting UMass fan base.

Frank Martin appears to be just that person.

It was a trying 2021-22 campaign from a COVID-perspective, but the Minutemen averaged just 2,219 fans a night over the course of a 15-game home slate at the Mullins Center. A total of 33,291 fans went through the gates, according to numbers produced by the school, with a season-high of 3,127 showing up on Feb. 12 against Saint Joseph’s. The building holds 9,493 for basketball.

McCall went just 61-82 in five seasons in charge, and when his tenure ended upon UMass’ loss to Dayton in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament, Bamford went right to work.

“You go through coaching searches and they’re exhausting,” Bamford said during Tuesday’s press conference to introduce Martin. “You have a lot of people who become your best friends, who tell you who you should hire or who you should talk to. I tried to stay off of Twitter as much as I could, because I know that there was a lot of things flying around.”

Some of those things flying around? On March 2, Iona coach and former UMass guard Rick Pitino publicly made a plea for Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway. “As a UMass alumnus I’ll stick my two cents in: Shaheen Holloway, head coach at Saint Peter’s, would be a super star hire for my alma mater,” Pitino tweeted. Of course, a lot has changed in almost four weeks. Holloway’s stock skyrocketed, coinciding with the Peacocks’ run to the Elite 8. He’s most likely destined to be the next coach at Seton Hall, his alma mater.

Former Boston Globe scribe Mark Blaudschun reported on March 7 that UMass was “closing in on hiring UConn associate head coach Kimani Young. Nothing official yet, but barring snags it could be done in next few days.”

That ultimately didn’t happen, and the school’s alleged flirtation with St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt also went nowhere. Blaudschun, who certainly didn’t adhere himself to UMass fans with his reporting, wrote on March 23 tweeted that “Sources: UMass reaches deal with Mark Schmidt for $1.8 million a year. Should be announced next week.”

For his part, Bamford said he tried to stay away from the musings of the online vortex.

“I looked at a little bit of it after the fact and was like, ‘wow, I’m glad I didn’t look at it in the three weeks during [the search],’” he said with a laugh.

Bamford said his negotiations with Martin happened in large part due to a relationship built with the new head coach over several years. He said they’ve stayed in touch recently, and got together in person at several Final Fours. Martin, who is 288-201 as a college head coach, was let go at South Carolina on March 14. The Gamecocks went 18-13 this season, and 9-9 in the SEC before falling in the opening round of the conference tourney to Mississippi State.

Martin went to the Final Four with South Carolina in the 2016-17 season, and he made the Elite 8 with Kansas State in 2009-10. He’s been a winner everywhere he’s gone. In order to secure his services, UMass upped its financial commitment — significantly. McCall was making $850,000 a year when he was fired. When he was hired in 2017, his five-year contract was set to pay him an average of $750,000 over the half-decade span. Bamford said Martin’s five-year deal will pay him an average of $1.65 million per season, which will come from a combination of salary, media and other compensation and retention bonuses.

“I just think it’s in the way he runs his program,” Bamford began of the attraction to Martin. “What you heard [Tuesday], that resonates with our fan base. We need somebody who’s going to really get their arms around the people that support this program or have supported this program that we may have lost along the way. He is a brand, people know who he is. But it’s because he’s had a tremendous amount of success.”

The 56-year-old Martin, who captivated the audience at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center on Tuesday, said despite being dismissed by South Carolina two weeks ago, he was set on continuing his coaching career.

“It’s all I know,” he began. “I’ve been coaching since I [was] 20 years old. For 38 years I’ve been on the sideline and I haven’t lasted on the sideline because of my record. I’ve lasted on the sideline because of my commitment to people and the relationship with players. And their willingness to fight for my vision and commit to growing and getting better. It’s who I am, and I miss that if I don’t coach.”

Now Minutemen fans will hope that commitment, and the university’s commitment to Martin, will return the program to national prominence.

Bamford’s man is now UMass’ man.


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