July 6, 2010

Should he stay or should he go?

Ever since Doug Martin took over as Kent State's
head coach in 2004 he's heard the criticism. It's hard not to hear
it when your teams win just 24 out of 70 games in six seasons and have won just
one game in two of those years.






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And every preseason, including this one, the whispers turn into shouts, the
result of many national publications that indicate the temperature of Martin's
seat has reached record highs.


It's easy to take one look at Martin's 24-46 record at Kent State
and agree with the national publications. But, just how warm is Martin's
seat?


To determine that one must look beyond the won-loss record. After all, Martin
didn't inherit a winning program. In fact, the program he took over had
claimed just one winning season in the previous16 years. In 11 of those seasons
the Golden Flashes won two games or less and three times it went winless.


Since winning its last Mid-American Conference championship in 1972 the
Kent State football program has fallen on hard times. In the 37 years since
winning that conference title the Flashes have had just six winning seasons.
During that same span they've had four winless seasons.


So, just how long should it take to turn a perennial loser into a perennial
winner? That's the million-dollar question.


Joe Novak won just eight games in four seasons before turning Northern Illinois
into one of the MAC's top programs. In his first three seasons at NIU
Novak was just 3-30. He finished one game under .500 in year four then he put
together back-to-back 6-5 campaigns, the second of which earned the Huskies
a share of the MAC West title.


The three years after their first conference title under Novak the Huskies
went on two finish 8-4, 10-2 and 9-3 and earned a bid to the Silicon Valley
Classic. During the 2003 10-win season the Huskies were ranked as high as No.
12 nationally and defeated three BCS teams: No. 13 Maryland, Alabama on the
road and Iowa State.


Novak would lead the Huskies to at least a share of four MAC West titles and
two bowl bids. In 12 years at NIU Novak finished 63-76 (.453).


Why did it take Novak just five years to put together a winning season while
Martin is still seeking his first in year seven? The two programs had similar
records in the previous five seasons: NIU finished 19-35 (.352) while KSU finished
17-40 (.298).


The difference dates back to Kent State's last MAC title. In those 38
seasons the Golden Flashes played 427 games and finished 131-294-2 (.309),
while Northern Illinois played 429 games and finished 191-235-3 (.449).


During that span, NIU dominated the Golden Flashes in head-to-head match-ups,
14-3, with an average score of 27.59 - 16.12.


Winning a MAC title in 1972 certainly didn't create much momentum for
the Golden Flashes. In the 38 seasons since the Golden Flashes had 15 campaigns
in which they won two or less games. During that same span Northern Illinois
had just six such seasons.


This information alone isn't enough to cool Martin's seat much,
but consider these facts:



  • With 24 wins Martin already is fourth all-time in
    coaching wins at Kent State

  • Martin is in second place all-time at Kent State
    with 17 conference
    wins

  • Martin's seven-year tenure is fourth all-time at Kent State


Then there are the external factors that must be considered.


First, despite one of the lowest recruiting budgets in the conference the
Kent State coaches have become a force on the recruiting trails. During Martin's
tenure the Flashes have finished ranked third or higher in the MAC four times
(out of six recruiting cycles) and in 2009 they finished with the No. 1 recruiting
class in the conference.


Even when the Flashes didn't recruit as well as the other MAC teams
they still developed their talent. In 2006 Kent State finished dead last in
the MAC in the recruiting rankings. But, in that class was current NFL wide
receiver and former KSU quarterback Julian Edelman and several
multi-year starters including current four-year starter at safety and an all-MAC
performer, Brian
Lainhart
. Also in that class were Kevin Hogan,
a four-year starter at defensive end, Dan Hartman,
soon to be a four-year starter at safety, and Pat Reedy,
a three-year starter along the offensive line before being moved to tight end
in 2010.


Martin and his staff also have improved the Flashes' ability to recruit
the state of Ohio. The recruiting class of 2010 featured three Ohioans that
appeared in last month's annual Big 33 game featuring Ohio's best
players against Pennsylvania's best. In that game it was another Kent
State prospect that stole the show as Pennsylvania's Rich
Gray
recorded four sacks and earned his squad's MVP award
over dozens of BCS signees.


Then there's the issue of depth. In the past if Kent State lost a starting
player to injury the Flashes might have been better off pulling a spectator
out of the stands rather than go to its depth chart. That isn't the case
anymore, at least at most positions. Take the 2009 season for instance. When
starting quarterback Giorgio Morgan injured
his ankle in a week one victory then re-aggravated it the following week the
Golden
Flashes turned to true freshman Spencer Keith to
lead the offense. Keith, who threw for over 10,000 yards and 121 touchdowns
in his Arkansas prep career, played so well Martin couldn't sit the freshman
on the bench even when Morgan returned to health.


When senior running back Eugene Jarvis, an
all-MAC performer, was lost for the year with a kidney injury, the Flashes
moved Jacquise
Terry
back to the position from wide receiver. All he did
was lead the team in rushing with 649 yards in just seven starts at the position.


In the past, a Kent State team that lost both its starting quarterback and
running back would have thrown in the towel. Instead, the 2009 Golden Flashes
finished a respectable 5-7 and were just four points away from finishing 7-5.


Credit the recruiting efforts of Martin and Co. for stocking the cupboards.


Most importantly, though, Martin has slowly changed the culture at Kent State.
The current crop of Golden Flashes football players believe they can win. More
and more of them remain in Kent during the summer months for strength training
and conditioning. They can be found at the stadium throwing the football and
running routes. The attitude has changed. Now they just need the results to
follow.


Again Martin's 24-46 record as a head coach draws plenty of criticism
from national publications. They'll continue to write about Martin's
job security and they call the 2010 season a must-win campaign if he wants
to hold onto his job.


They may be correct; 2010 might be the year Martin has to win to keep his
job. The good news is he has developed a football program at Kent State. It's
taken a while-and there's plenty of justification for that-but
Martin has his program positioned for long-term success.


Prior to Martin, Kent State needed 17 seasons to collect four top four finishes
in the MAC East. Martin-led teams have finished among the top four of the MAC
East four times in his six years as head coach.


Martin has raised the bar at Kent State. But, has he done enough to keep his
job without winning the MAC title in 2010?


The answer is yes.


 





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