What do you want from a Florida State baseball coach?
Beyond the obvious – a national title – think about the job, the challenges and what it takes to be successful. Don’t attach a name to it. Just what you want most from the coach.
A plus as a hitting or pitching coach.
A quality recruiter in Florida, south Georgia and Atlanta.
An engaging personality who connects with the fans.
A fundraiser who can bring needed improvements to Dick Howser Stadium.
Those should be the top four requirements for a baseball coach in the view of an athletics director, booster, alum or fan. And the end goal is to put quality teams on the field that can challenge for a College World Series title.
What many people have the right to question is how many coaches meet these qualifications and were either interested in the job, interviewed for it or applied. The Osceola has confirmed some of the candidates, including Martin Jr., former FSU shortstop and current UNC Greensboro coach Link Jarrett, former FSU pitching coach and current Florida A&M coach Jamey Shouppe and Chipola College coach Jeff Johnson. There are certainly more. And there are undoubtedly a few who inquired but chose not to get too deep into the hiring process.
FSU athletics director David Coburn and president John Thrasher chose Martin Jr., a longtime assistant.
“I have every confidence Mike Martin Jr. will carry on the winning tradition of Florida State University baseball,” Thrasher said. “For more than two decades as an assistant coach, he has shown he is a talented recruiter, passionate competitor and respected mentor to our student-athletes. While Mike Martin Jr. brings his own strengths and style of coaching to the program, his values, integrity and love for this university will carry on the proud legacy of his father.”
So let’s take a look at what he brings to the job in each of the four areas.
Hitting coach: Martin Jr. has helped develop a large number of college hitters, notably first-round picks like Buster Posey, D.J. Stewart and James Ramsey. He has also coached recent stars like Drew Mendoza and Cal Raleigh as well as All-Americans like Devon Travis. He is famously connected with Posey, who he convinced should move from shortstop to catcher, developed into an All-American and then a National League MVP. It’s worth mentioning that he isn’t the only one: Rafael Lopez also was an infielder that Martin Jr. helped transition to catcher.
His approach at the plate – often one of patience in taking pitches, fouling off good ones if necessary and looking for pitchers to make mistakes – is one that is met with criticism by some fans. FSU has accumulated walks, often being among the nation’s leaders, but there are games where a pitcher in control doesn’t allow the patient approach to work.
Martin Jr. teams have also gone on the attack, swinging early at pitches in the regional and running a pair of Georgia right-handers back to the dugout in less than four innings. In prior interviews, Martin Jr. has admitted that this approach isn’t for every hitter. FSU is choosy in the recruiting process, finding not just the right player but the right personality to handle this philosophy.
Recruiter: Martin Jr. took over as the top recruiter when longtime pitching coach Jamey Shouppe departed after the 2011 season. Unlike in college football where the head coach is active on the road pursuing recruits that the staff identified, it is Martin Jr. who is constantly out at showcases and high schools as he evaluates prospects. Martin Jr. has landed top-10 signing classes since he took over eight years ago as recruiting coordinator.
In the case of Mendoza, it was Martin Jr. who first saw him as a pitcher, learned of his FSU family ties and eventually landed a prospect that many thought would be a first-round pick out of high school before he chose to attend FSU instead.
Personality: Martin Jr. isn’t a chip off the old block. His dad is more outgoing and comfortable fielding questions from fans and media, discussing at length a player, an opposing coach, a game from decades ago. Martin Jr. has served in the subordinate assistant coach’s role, mostly speaking with the media in small groups or one-on-ones and is known for being candid but also willing to praise the hard work done by players.
At times Martin Jr. shows his frustration even when the Seminoles are performing well on the field. It’s the ultimate sign of a perfectionist. Martin Jr. wears his emotions on his sleeves, far more than his dad who joked at the CWS a few days ago that he can fake a smile and go through interviews. Can Martin Jr. step into the role, now as a head coach, and connect with fans and alumni? Yes. It is something that he will learn and adapt to in time.
Fundraiser: How a coach keeps up with former professional players and connects with boosters is important. This is vital, especially with a baseball program that must continue to seek improvements to Howser Stadium. Chair-back seating was a big upgrade, but that was 15 years ago. The remodeled plaza along the first-base line also makes the stadium more fan friendly. But recent trips to Georgia’s Foley Field and LSU’s Alex Box Stadium only underscore the necessity to keep up with the big boys in the ACC and SEC when it comes to facilities. Upgrades to Howser are part of the boosters’ $100 million Unconquered campaign, with a new weight room already delivered. But there is more work to be done, likely in two phases, and Martin Jr. will also be tasked with helping raise funds to make those plans a reality.
Martin Jr. isn’t the perfect candidate. If you were assigning a grade for each category, Martin Jr. wouldn’t get all A’s. His philosophy can be debated, but he has shown that he can improve a player’s swing and help him develop at a position. He has landed some top recruits the past few years, including Mendoza, outfielder Elijah Cabell and Nander de Sedas (the latter two were top-100 prospects in the class of 2018). His personality in small groups should come through when he has to speak with broader audiences. He knows the value of working with prospective donors who will give money back to the program and could help to encourage former pro baseball players to help continue the legacy of the program.
There will be criticism of Martin Jr. He is 0-0 as a head coach. He doesn’t bring experience from other programs. He has struggled to compete against the likes of Florida, which recently won a national title. And, the big one, that this was an arrangement and that his last name helped him get the job.
In some regards, Martin Jr. was hamstrung by his last name. He would interview for jobs and athletics directors were reluctant to bring him on board, knowing that he would eventually depart for FSU once Martin Sr. retired. It’s a tough situation: how to get experience as a head coach, but also find the right job where you can grow as a head coach and build a resume.
Martin Jr. never got that chance. But it was clear all along that his dad put him in positions to grow. By making him recruiting coordinator, Martin Jr. could shape the roster. And Martin Sr. frequently made sure to remind the media and fans that a hitter’s success was attributed to hard work as well as time spent with Martin Jr.
This was a big hire for Coburn and Thrasher. A search of all options, one that has been open for months, ended with final names being sent to Coburn and Thrasher. It’s a hire that will be met with praise and criticism.
Is Martin Jr. the right man for the job? That’s the question many fans have debated for years and will continue to discuss. The final conclusion by Coburn and Thrasher is that, yes, he is able to deliver on the four important requirements, put together a staff and lead the program into the future.
As FSU frequently referred to it, 2019 was Martin’s “One Last Run.” And now Martin Jr. will need to help players and fans turn the page, beginning a new run in 2020.