MANHATTAN — Kansas State basketball players exited Bramlage Coliseum on Monday night, laughing as they walked to their cars and flashing peace signs at the assembled reporters and security guards.
It was an odd conclusion to a hectic day in which they learned their coach was leaving for another job.
After five seasons with Kansas State, Frank Martin is done with the Wildcats. He will be introduced as South Carolina’s new coach today in Columbia, S.C. and sign a six-year contract worth close to $12 million, according to a South Carolina source with knowledge of the negotiations.
Martin confirmed to ESPN on Monday night that he had accepted the job.
K-State president Kirk Schulz and athletic director John Currie will hold a news conference to discuss the coaching change at 10 a.m., just before Martin is to be introduced in South Carolina.
Martin’s departure comes as a surprise to most because of the program he built at K-State starting as an assistant under Bob Huggins. During his five years in charge, he guided the Wildcats to four NCAA Tournaments, a run to the Elite Eight in 2010 and a 117-54 record. With one scholarship player graduating, they seem ready for another strong season.
By comparison, South Carolina hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2004, hasn’t won a game in the NCAA Tournament since 1973 and finished last in the SEC this season. The Gamecocks fired Darrin Horn after winning 10 games in his fourth season. It’s a rebuilder.
But there were other factors in Martin’s decision. It will allow Martin to move closer to his hometown of Miami, and put him in the SEC with life-long coaching friends Andy Kennedy and Anthony Grant.
Another plus: He will have a new boss in South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman. Martin’s decision to leave was due, at least in part, to a deteriorating relationship with Currie.
The two have never shared a deep connection, and Martin wasn’t a fan of his micro-managing style.
“Frank isn’t one to complain about someone behind his back,” a source close to Martin said last weekend, “but I can tell you he doesn’t get along with that gentleman.”
That sour relationship reached a breaking point during the NCAA Tournament, when Martin didn’t agree with the way Currie handled the decision to hold senior Jamar Samuels out of a third-round loss to Syracuse.
Samuels, K-State sources said, was wired $200 by his former AAU coach. Currie said he found out about the possible NCAA violation between the Cats’ second- and third-round games and made the decision to suspend Samuels.
Martin said he didn’t think Samuels did anything wrong. He also said he played no part in the decision-making process.
That left Martin upset. So upset, a source said, that he was ready to listen to South Carolina’s offer.
“Frank is just looking to be happy,” the source close to Martin said. “He wants to work at a place where he has the full support of his athletic director and president. He wants to be left alone so he can do what he does best — coach.”
Martin, apparently, felt he could no longer do that at K-State. Martin, Schulz and Currie didn’t respond to repeated messages seeking comment. Players attending a meeting with K-State officials at Bramlage wouldn’t comment, either.
Currie has been with K-State since 2009, and overhauled a once-struggling athletic department. When he took over, he emphasized an improved student-athlete experience, transparency and a tighter budget. He required all expense forms throughout the athletic department go through him, and called for regular meetings with his head coaches.
His ways worked well enough to balance K-State’s checkbook and he made huge strides in fundraising. The Wildcats are more than halfway done with construction on a new basketball practice facility and are about to break ground on a $75 million expansion to the west side of Snyder Family Stadium.
But his ways also rubbed Martin the wrong way. A Big 12 source said Martin regularly criticized Currie when speaking with other coaches, and didn’t feel loyal to him because Currie didn’t hire him.
Martin had been linked to other coaching vacancies, including DePaul, Oregon, UNLV and Miami, but signed a new contract with K-State in 2010. The deal was set to run through 2015 and pay him an average of $1.55 million per year after signing bonuses, but before performance-based bonuses.
By finishing tied for third in the Big 12 standings in 2010-11, he triggered a renegotiation clause, which was set to begin on Sunday. Had he chosen to begin talks on a new contract with Currie and not reached a new deal by June 1, his buyout to leave K-State would have dropped from $1 million to $500,000.
But Martin decided to pass on that negotiation window. Instead, he will start over at South Carolina, where he hopes to build the type of program he did at K-State.