Mike Martin is going home.
After six years of service as an assistant coach for Penn, the 2004 Brown graduate is returning to Providence, R.I., to take over as the head coach of Brown basketball.
With the Bears, Martin will look to turn around a program that has gone 14-42 in the last four years under previous head man Jesse Agel, who was fired shortly after the season ended in March.
Martin, however, expressed nothing but gratefulness and optimism in his new role as the rebuilder of his alma mater’s program.
“I’m honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to be the head coach at Brown,” Martin said in the press conference officially announcing his appointment. “We know we have a lot of work to do, but we cannot wait to get started on working towards our goal of winning Ivy League Championships.”
Rumors had been circling for weeks that Martin was a finalist for the position. Even the Penn players did not know for sure until Thursday that Martin would be departing.
“I found out about it on the internet, and then coach Martin called me and we talked about it,” rising junior guard Miles Cartwright said. “We really didn’t believe the rumors a couple weeks ago — we kind of shut it out — so [Thursday] was really the first day we kind of realized he was leaving.”
Martin first came to Penn with Glenn Miller before the 2006-07 season. A four-year starter for the Bears under Miller, he spent one year as Miller’s assistant at Brown before following him to the Palestra. When Miller was fired seven games into the 2009-10 campaign, Martin stayed on staff and eventually played a key role in Jerome Allen’s regime.
Martin credited both Miller and Allen as formative influences for him as both a player and a coach. Allen attended the press conference in support of Martin.
“Jerome has been as big of an influence for me over these last three years as I can imagine, I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done,” Martin said. “It’s going to be hard the two times we’ll have to look down the sidelines and see each other, but I know he’s not going to take it easy on me, so I won’t take it easy on him.”
Under both Miller and Allen, Martin played a key role in recruitment, helping bring in players such as Zack Rosen, Cartwright and Henry Brooks. Cartwright spoke about what made Martin such a great recruiter.
“He was very persistent. He called me almost every day,” Cartwright said. “I really just built a great trust with him, and he’s really one of the big reasons I’m at Penn now.”
Cartwright also credited Martin with helping him progress as a player over the past two seasons.
“He really knew the game, especially playing in the Ivy League. He knew how to beat guys and how to play angles and how to get your shots off quicker — skills that I really didn’t have coming into college.”
At age 29, Martin will be the second-youngest coach in Division I athletics. New Wagner College hire Bashir Mason, 28, is the youngest, and former Quakers guard Andy Toole of Robert Morris University is the third youngest at 31.
Jerome Allen was in a similar position when he took over in 2009 as a new, young coach taking over at his alma mater.
“As I have learned the past three years, it is a special opportunity to oversee a program that you once played in,” Allen said in a press release. “I know that Mike will embrace that opportunity at Brown.”
Though his departure will leave a large void to fill at Penn, Allen expressed his happiness for his former assistant.
“I am extremely happy for Mike and his family; his hiring is well-deserved. Mike has done the University of Pennsylvania a great service for the last six years, and it is only right that he get the opportunity to run his own program.”
Of what the Quakers will miss most about Martin, Cartwright spoke of his recruitment process and his ability to draw up plays, but said his energy will be the most difficult thing to replace.
“He was tough, but he had our best interests in his heart, like all coaches do. He brought a great energy, he had a great mind, X’s and O’s especially, that will be missed. But his energy will be missed the most.”
The Quakers’ schedule for the upcoming season has yet to be released, but judging from past seasons, the first Penn-Brown meeting of the season will likely take place sometime between late January and early February. It iss a date that Red and Blue players and fans will have circled on their calendars.
Allen summed it up best.
“With the exception of two times each season, I wish Mike nothing but the best of success.”