Frank Martin finds himself at the highest point of his coaching career with his South Carolina Gamecocks in the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Martin, though, remembers when things were at their lowest. He remembers that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski offered him hope.
That was in 1998 when Martin had been fired from his job as head coach at Miami Senior High School. After winning three consecutive state championships, the school had to vacate the last of those titles when an investigation found players were given improper housing arrangements by school boosters and employees.
The school cleared Martin of any misdeeds but fired him anyway.
After 15 seasons of coaching high school basketball and teaching math, Martin said he wrote hundreds of letters to college coaches all over the country looking for work.
He got one response.
“One guy sent me a hand-written note back,” Martin told the Dan Patrick Show. “It was Coach K. And I didn’t even know him back then. He knew who I was because I was part of a very successful high school team, but all that kind of all lumped into that one moment there.”
Martin coached one more season of high school basketball before heading to Northeastern as an assistant coach. He eventually became Kansas State’s head coach in 2007. That was before heading to Columbia to take over the moribund Gamecocks program in 2012.
The path to this year’s Final Four included an 88-81 second-round win over Duke in Greenville, S.C.
When Martin walked in front of the scorer’s table to shake hands with Krzyzewski after the game, the sport’s all-time leader in coaching wins offered more encouraging words — this time spoken rather than in a hand-written letter.
“Frank, you’ve got a great team. You’re building something special here,” Martin said Krzyzewski told him.
That hand-written note to an unemployed Martin was directly out of Krzyzewski’s playbook. He still sends cards with hand-written notes to his former players on their birthdays each year.
His note to Martin offered hope when it was sorely needed. His words to Martin in Greenville solidified Martin’s confidence in his team. That has, in turn, carried South Carolina to a level of success it had previously not seen.