A lot of important things happened in the middle of Paco Martinez’s first season as the Wild’s coach, but its success is best defined by its beginning and its end.
After Morris Lolar resigned to take a collegiate coaching position, several Wichita players, including quarterback Rocky Hinds and star defensive lineman Matt Moss, thought about exiting, as well.
Then they found out Martinez, Lolar’s offensive coordinator, would be his replacement.
“He’s pretty much the reason why I came back,” Hinds said. “Once I got confirmation that he was going to come back, and that he got the job, that’s what made me sign back right away.”
The end of Martinez’s first year has completed the seamless transition from Lolar, who led the Wild to the Champions Professional Indoor Football League championship in 2013. Martinez has Wichita back in the final, hosting Sioux City on Saturday night at Hartman Arena.
Martinez retained most of the core of last season’s team, maintaining awareness that a new leadership voice, especially for a league champion, should have some familiarity attached.
“It’s been all a credit to those guys,” Martinez said. “My job was easy. They had the hard job of believing and following.… It’s an honor to have guys locked into you and be loyal to you the way these guys have. There’s not a word that can describe it – it’s indescribable of what that means to me.”
If Wichita’s players were confident that the 32-year-old Martinez could be a head coach, Martinez himself needed some convincing. It had nothing to do with his football knowledge and leadership – under Martinez’s guidance, the Wild has consistently been among the CPIFL’s top-ranked offenses.
Martinez’s uncertainty lied in the responsibilities of carrying a more prominent spot on the sideline – how to run practices, the best preparation techniques and the day-to-day duties when the team isn’t practicing or playing a game.
“I told them the very first day, ‘I’m not as good as Morris Lolar. I need you to be better for me,’ ” Martinez said. “I’m automatically weaker than he was as a coach, just because of experience. We rallied around that and everybody has done a great job of getting to our goal here.
“Every week I learn something. At the beginning of the year, it was offseason stuff. Guys need help with housing and jobs and things like that. When we got to the season, it was coordinating practice, understanding conditioning routines. As simple as when do we wear pads and not wear pads in practice.”
Martinez has been a coach for most of his adult life, and he has never experienced prolonged losing. His first job was as an assistant at Heights High for one season under Rick Wheeler, when the Falcons were beginning a long run of success that culminated when they won the 2010 Class 6A championship.
By then, Martinez was with another group of Falcons at Friends, where this fall he’ll be entering his 10th season as an assistant to Monty Lewis. At Friends, Martinez has been a part of three KCAC championships and three NAIA playoff appearances. He said he’d like to end up as a head coach at that level or in NCAA Division II.
“Learning how to win,” Martinez said. “It’s something that’s learned, you don’t just roll your hat out there and start to win. You have to have a plan, you have to have a vision, you have to steer everybody in the right direction. That’s really what I focused on this year, understanding what my role is.
“I’m the leader, but I do very little work. (The players) are the ones that are rolling the ship and the coaches themselves are the ones that do all the work to get us there. I just steer it in the right direction, and we’ve been successful.”