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Bob Lutz: Now K-State fans want to know why

  • Published Monday, March 26, 2012, at 8:59 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 25, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

Frank Martin blew through Kansas like a spring tornado. We’ve never seen anything like him in these parts, a man so full of … full of … what exactly is Martin full of, anyway?

He’s full of vocabulary, one that would make the ladies at the church social collapse in horror.

He’s full of intensity, with dark eyes that could cut steel.

He’s full of authenticity and fierce pride. There are no soft adjectives that can describe Martin because he’s a hard man, raised in a tough Miami neighborhood and dedicated to helping young basketball players better their lot in life.

That’s why Martin, who is leaving Kansas State to coach basketball at South Carolina, said Sunday on CBS, where he was an analyst for the NCAA Tournament’s regional finals, that he had given money to some of his former high school players from Miami when they were in college.

It tied into a conversation about the fate of K-State senior forward Jamar Samuels, who was held out of the Wildcats’ third-round loss against Syracuse when it was uncovered that his AAU coach in Washington, D.C., had wired him $200 days before.

When asked why Samuels was in street clothes, Martin directed all questions to K-State athletic director John Currie, who outside of issuing a statement to fans on K-State’s website has answered nothing. That supposedly will change today; Currie has planned a 10 a.m. news conference.

And so we’re at a point where one of the most popular coaches in K-State history, and one of the scariest, is apparently leaving Manhattan.

K-Staters want to know why. And they’re going to want to know quickly and in great detail how this sudden and distasteful departure has come about.

There is apparently no love lost between Currie and Martin and if you believe what a lot of people are saying, the Samuels decision was the final straw. Though Martin hasn’t come right out and said so, the feeling I get is that he was all for playing Samuels and accepting — make that fighting — any future ramifications from the NCAA or whomever wanted to investigate.

Currie wasn’t about to go down that road, though. That’s understandable given the potential fallout.

It’s just too bad that the coach and the athletic director couldn’t have gotten on the same page before it came to this. Martin never felt comfortable with Currie, who in his first athletic director’s job inherited the unfortunate aftermath of the Bob Krause era. Currie arrived in Manhattan just months after Bill Snyder had been re-instated as football coach after a three-year hiatus, during which Ron Prince broke most of the dishes.

And then there was that bull in the china closet down in the men’s basketball office.

Remember, Martin didn’t make it any secret that he was open to leaving after the 2010-11 season. He had a sparkle in his eye for the Miami (Fla.) opening, which would have meant a return home. But the Hurricanes never showed interest, instead hiring George Mason’s Jim Larranaga. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by Martin’s interest in South Carolina. But I am.

It has to be frustrating for a nervous and agitated K-State fan base to wonder what’s going on and why this is happening. Just a couple of weeks ago, there didn’t appear to be any concern that Martin would leave the Wildcats. Well, he’s about to leave for a school that has almost no basketball tradition, one that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in 39 years..

Martin’s disappointment in having to sit Samuels for potentially his last game at K-State over $200 is obvious. His statement about giving money to former high school players on CBS was unusual, but likely made to strike home a point about the $200 Samuels received — nevermind it further graying the area of impermissible benefits for college athletes.

I have never doubted Martin’s loyalty to his players, the same players he sometimes chews on during games with the viciousness of a guard dog. His earnestness passes the fake test because he never wavers.

Since he arrived at K-State as an assistant for one year to Bob Huggins, and through his five years as coach, Martin has spoken of his devotion to helping basketball players from difficult backgrounds improve their lives as well as their skills.

The way he goes about doing that isn’t for the weak. When Martin issued a statement in February that he intended to clean up his language so as to set a better example, eyebrows were raised across college basketball.

It was well-intended, but fans had grown to accept the sometimes-profane Martin because he was winning and they realized there was a genuine, caring man underneath the gruff exterior. How much of that acceptance was because of winning and how much was because of the man is something we might never know.

Check Bob Lutz’s blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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