When Robin Martin stepped on to Penn’s campus as a freshman nearly 17 years ago, he had no idea that coaching would be in his future.
Now, he finds himself as the head coach of Penn track and field.
“Being a coach was not something that I had planned back then when I was an athlete,” Martin said. “Sometimes I guess in life your passions find you.”
In December of 2011, Martin’s former coach and long-time mentor Charlie Powell stepped down from the helm of Penn track after nearly three decades in charge of the program. Martin was then named the interim head coach and was permanently given the position this past June.
“It was just one of those pinnacle moments, really. Charlie is someone that I have the utmost respect for and he is really kind of a father figure in my life,” Martin said. “The first day I sat in his desk was a really big deal.”
Martin was one of Powell’s most highly decorated athletes, winning 11 Ivy League titles for the Quakers and twice being named an All-American.
After graduating from Penn in 2000, Martin held off on picking a career and decided to pursue various endeavors.
He worked for US Airways in their management training program, managed a jazz club and helped set up a school while living in Nicaragua for a few years before finally finding his true calling.
When he came back to the United States, Martin looked into attending law school at Penn and happened to stop by track practice one day in 2008.
Almost immediately, he became interested in coaching and joined Powell’s staff as a volunteer assistant.
Martin worked with the middle-distance runners, eventually being named a full-time assistant coach in 2010.
Now that he is the head coach, Martin doesn’t take his task of maintaining the program that Powell built lightly.
“To be charged with taking care of a legacy that someone that was a father figure to me helped build for his entire career meant a lot,” Martin said.
Martin and the rest of his coaching staff have brought plenty of new energy to the program, which has helped to bring in two top-tier recruiting classes the last couple of years.
However, Martin believes that attracting quality athletes is only a small part of his job.
“We’re definitely focusing more on recruiting, but development has always been the Penn way,” Martin said.
Martin himself was a product of Penn’s focus on developing athletes. Coming out of high school, the Michigan native was fairly unheralded but became one of the best middle-distance runners in the nation during his time at Penn.
Part of that development for Martin is having the athletes reach their “genetic potential,” or be as good as they can possibly be.
“We want everyone in our current program to get really excited about the idea of ‘how good can they be?’” Martin said. “If we get the team going in that direction, and we recruit as hard and as well as I know we can, then really great things are going to happen.”
Penn’s track program also has plenty of genetic potential that Martin believes has not been fully tapped into yet.
“I think we have one of the best staffs in the country, I think we have obviously one of the best schools in the country, we have some of the best facilities in the country and we have the best track meet in the country,” Martin said. “You put those together and why can’t we be one of the best teams in the [United States]?”
Martin doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself for setting future team goals, but his optimism for where the program can go is boundless.
“I have things in my mind that I think we can accomplish,” he said. “I think the sky is the limit.”
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