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March 25, 2012

Not too late for Currie to save the day

It's rarely the initial explosion that gets you. It's the radiation. It's the fallout.

If Frank Martin begrudgingly stomps away from Kansas State for South Carolina, a place where basketball comes sometime following the afterthought, the message sent by the move would only be the start, a warning shot aimed at Wildcat director of athletics John Currie and his administration.

This is Martin we're talking about. Don't expect him to go quietly, if he goes. His bus to the airport will have trouble moving because of the bodies stacked underneath it.

This is Martin, a man who still can't discuss the situation that led to his removal as coach at Miami Senior High School 14 years ago without becoming agitated. The events that led to his mentor Bob Huggins' firing at Cincinnati? Don't even get him started.

That's to say there's not a drop of water under any of his bridges.

And the bridge that links him to Currie's leadership at K-State will be hit with a flamethrower should he feel it can no longer exist. No one will bother to fiddle while it burns. Martin is truly the Michael Jordan of grudge holding. Not only is he great, he makes everyone around him better.

"It's not about money anymore," one source close to Martin said on Saturday, emphasizing this was about the Martin's relationship with Currie. "I don't know if he'll go (to South Carolina)."

But where and when he goes are unimportant in the larger scope. How he goes will mean much more.

Martin remains the basketball coach at Kansas State, but it's already begun. After complaining via text that I couldn't get Currie to return a phone call on Saturday night, a response from a different member of Martin's camp appeared immediately.

"Welcome to Frank's world," the message said. A relationship that has always been somewhat fractured is in the process of crumbling.

The words will only become louder and less guarded if Martin actually packs up his office. He prides himself on speaking his mind. The trait is a breath of fresh air until he feels you've wronged him. Then, it can suffocate you.

Truth be told, my personal relationship with Martin isn't what it once was. These days, I'm usually one of his least favorite people in the interview room.

We're not each other's biggest fans. So be it. As two men with jobs to do, we find ways to make it work.

Currie better find a way to the same, and do so immediately.

If he doesn't, word on Martin's distaste for Currie and the Wildcat administration will spread in basketball circles like news of the previous night's escapades in a fraternity house. Details will emerge. Dirty laundry will be tossed everywhere. That's the larger danger, and Currie better realize it.

Have fun finding a suitable replacement when the coach everyone views as one of the most honest men in the profession is occasionally taking aim at your face for the next 10 years. That hiring process ought to be a cinch.

Martin is a wonderful basketball coach. He's notched more than 20 victories in each of his five seasons in Manhattan. He wins NCAA Tournament games. He attracts national attention, recruits high-caliber athletes and his teams appear on national TV. This isn't about John Currie or anyone's feelings. This is about Kansas State, and it's time for Currie to take note.

Martin's colorful, often profane style may cut against Currie's vision of what a coach should be, but it leads to success and attention for the program. That all adds up to revenue. Lots of it.

It's not my job to keep him in Manhattan. But if it were, I wouldn't let personal feelings complicate things. He sells Currie's tickets. He gives him bullet points for successful fundraising presentations. He wins over fans and makes his boss' job exponentially easier.

The unfinished basketball training facility that now sits in front of Bramlage Coliseum might be Currie's fundraising baby, but it's Martin's doing. It's time that Currie do something in return:

Change.

It's that simple. Change. Or at least pretend to. Then do what you do best: Sell it.

Get on the phone and schedule a meeting. Give Martin more money. But, more importantly, make sure your coach knows things will be different. No more micro managing. No more asking him to write letters to fans about swearing. No more snap decisions to suspend his players without Martin's input.

Make promises. Make concessions. Let him have control. Then, have a press conference, announce a contract extension and deny that a rift ever existed. Make the media and your fans look dumb as you and your smiling coach lob compliments at each other from behind a podium.

Nobody will mind the ruse. Really, they won't.

Winning is the only thing that makes people happy, and Martin does just that. Don't beg, just change. Because hiring a new basketball coach is only good for an athletic director if that coach is an upgrade. And best wishes on finding one that will be viewed as more successful than Martin by K-State fans or the national media.

Just remember, the decline of a major program on your watch isn't so good for the old resume.

It's in Currie's nature to pay so much attention to details that he becomes a nit-picking annoyance to his coaches. It's not difficult to see the larger picture, though. And that, now more than ever, is needed to save his relationship with Martin.

Is it kissing up? Maybe. But it's necessary. It sure beats the mushroom cloud that will appear should an angry Martin board a plane for South Carolina.

Nobody wants to deal with that, especially not John Currie.



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