Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Q&A: With fresh perspective and outlook, Martin embarks on first season with Aggies

(NMSU head football coach Doug Martin draws up a play from the Aggie coaches offices last week. Said Martin of his strengths as a football coach: "I'd like to think I know something about offensive football. And how to score points."/Photo by Robin Zielinski)

Doug Martin enters his first fall season as head football coach at New Mexico State University, and with that comes new territory.

When Martin came back to the school as offensive coordinator in late January - before being appointed to the head coaching position shortly thereafter - he became the first coach, at least in recent memory, to return to the Aggie football program after departing (Martin served as the team's offensive coordinator in 2011, before taking the same position at Boston College last year).
Upon his return to Las Cruces, the Aggies first-year head coach brought an air of positivity and a fresh start to the program.

We sat down with Martin for a recent interview to get his thoughts on the upcoming year, and all things pertaining to Aggie football:

Sun-News: What's your perception of Aggie football today? You've been here since February. What do you think it'll take to get the program out of this funk?
Doug Martin: My perception of Aggie football is untapped resources. I think we have a lot of things here that need to be tweaked, things that need to be developed. But there's a lot of potential here. There's a lot of people here that want you to succeed. In the community, former players, alums. There's a lot. The administration here. And I see all that, maybe for the first time in a long time, being on the same page, and moving forward and having a direction. I think it's kind of been a rudderless ship, maybe, before, where there wasn't enough direction. I think that's my job, is to dictate what direction we want to go in, what we want the program to look like in all phases, and then get everybody else on board with it. And I really like where we are right now. Getting a lot of help from a lot of people.

SN: Why did you come back initially as offensive coordinator? You're probably the first coach in the history of Aggie football to actually return. What did you see here?
DM: The most important thing to me has always been the quality of life. It hasn't been the money, it hasn't been all those types of things....And we really enjoyed living here. The community was fantastic to me and my family. It was one of the most fun years I've had coaching. The kids I coached were just hungry, they wanted to be coached and we really went a long way offensively that year and had a lot of fun. It was fun watching those kids succeed. And while I was here that year I was able to really look at this program and see, 'man, why hasn't this place not won? And why has it not succeeded?' And I had ideas that one day, if I could ever get to come back here, boy there's things I'd like to do. And then when the opportunity came to come back as a coordinator, I was excited because it was a great place to live and I really enjoy the people here. And then the opportunity to be a head coach was a real blessing. Now I get to implement some ideas I had about moving this program forward and giving people what they really deserve here, which is a competitive football program.

SN: How much of a benefit is it that you were actually here before?
DM: It was huge. I got to know the people here. Administration, the players, fans. I got to see what was really going on here. So when I came back, it wasn't like there was a lot of surprises coming. I knew what I was walking into. I had a whole year to really think about this program. Just daydreaming what would I do with it if I had the opportunity. Luckily, it worked out. I think that part of things probably put us at least a year ahead of what a normal staff would have been.

SN: In your estimation, when talking bowl game, how long do you think it'll take to get the program to that point?
DM: I don't know, and I don't ever talk to the players about bowl games. And I don't talk to them about winning seasons. Really, and I believe this, and I know people are probably sick of hearing me say it but, UTEP and UNM: that is the measuring stick and that is the goal. You beat those two teams in the same season, that winning season and bowl game and all that other stuff is going to take care of itself. Just look at the history of this place. Every year, when New Mexico State has won those two games in the same season, it's been a great year, it's been a winning year, it's been a championship year. That's the goal right there. And then all the other stuff will take care of itself.

SN: What are barometers and measuring sticks this year? Obviously you're playing an independent schedule.
DM: I think there's a couple: obviously UTEP and UNM, to see how we fair in those two games. Are we there now, or do we still have more work to do to catch those two teams? We'll find out on those two Saturdays. I think the other big measuring stick for us is the (Louisiana) Lafayette game.....That's the only Sun Belt team we're playing, and it happens to be the one that's picked to win the championship. We'll get a great look of where we have to go athletically and program-wise from that game, to be the best team in the Sun Belt.

SN: What will Aggie football do differently that hasn't been done before, on and off the field?
DM: Really, we've already accomplished that off the field. With all the community service things we've done - I don't even know how many hours we've done, but it's a lot. We've had a lot of successful camps, we've kind of re-engaged the community. Our players have really enjoyed that. They've enjoyed getting out and meeting people in this community. I think the other thing is to get this campus to embrace us. The students. That's the next big goal for us that's probably a little bit different than what's been going on here before. And then I think the thing that has to be different is the way we play football here. The identity of what we want the football team to look like. I tell the players all the time, I have a vision in my head of what our football team is going to look like one day: it's going to come running down that tunnel, it's going to be a fast, physical football team, plays with a lot of passion and a lot of discipline. And it's just a very athletic team. And team in every sense of the word. We don't have a lot of great star power here. And that's OK. The best football teams I've ever been around were just that - they were teams. And I'm after guys that are willing to give themselves to each other and play for each other. I think that's the biggest task at hand for us right now. Get rid of the egos and play for each other.

SN: Looking at the schedule, there's going to be a lot of uphill battles. How do you prepare your team for being an underdog most weeks?
DM: The one thing here is, how are we going to win football games? We are not going to win many football games 30-0. It's not going to happen. That doesn't happen in college football, period, much anymore. But we can win football games late in the fourth quarter. We have to be a great, mentally-tough football team that is willing to go to the last play of the game to win games. If we can do that, if we can hang around with people through the fourth quarter, get late in the game, and we're good in the two-minute drill and we're good in the four-minute offense when we're trying to run the clock out and we have the lead, those types of things. That's how we win football games here.

SN: What do you think the potential strengths of this year's team are?
DM: I think just the team atmosphere, No. 1. I think these guys really do believe in playing for each other right now. I think we've come a long way as far as the physical part of things, with the strength program and all that. I think those are definitely advantages to us. I think we have pretty good team speed. We do run well. And that's an advantage. We've got to take that and use that, until we can recruit the type of athletes that we need here.

SN: What are the similarities between NMSU now and Kent State when you first took that program over?
DM: We are so much farther ahead than where the Kent State program was. Facility-wide, strength program - we didn't even have a strength coach. We had no strength program at all. We're a long way from there. The losing mentality part of it is very similar. We've got to change the attitudes and change the way we do things. We got that done at Kent, and in three years we were bowl-eligible in our third year. I don't know if we can do that that fast here, maybe we can do it faster. A lot of that depends on the players and how they embrace the struggle of a season and handle the adversities that are going to come. And how well they play.

SN: As you see it, what are the incremental steps in developing a quarterback?
DM: No. 1 is, you gotta have a guy who has confidence, or moxy, or whatever you want to call it. That 'it' factor. That guy, there's just something special about a real quarterback. They just have a different air about them. I think McDonald and King Davis both kind of have that. That was probably, maybe, one the qualities lacking a little bit in Tra. Just that confidence, being vocal, being a leader, and those types of things. I really like where we are right now with those two guys. The other thing is, I know this, a young quarterback like King, you can ruin a kid like that real early if you put him in a lot of bad situations....(It's) developing a quarterback. So I think it'll be a key for us to be able to use both of those guys, and help them help each other through this season.

SN: So despite King Davis now being No. 2 on the depth chart, he's still going to take the field?
DM: Oh, he's going to play. They'll both play. I think we've got two really good quarterbacks right there. Obviously Andrew's a senior this year, and we'd like for him to finish up with a good senior year. But I think King, and that's why we kept him at quarterback and moved Tra, when you look at the long run, King has the most potential to really become the quarterback you can build a program with.

SN: How many of your current players could play at Boston College?
DM: There's quite a few. I would say (Davonte) Wallace could play at BC, (Valerian) Ume(-Ezeoke) could play at BC, (Perris) Scoggins could certainly play. A lot of the receivers could play, that's what they had the hardest time getting at Boston College, was quality wide receivers. I think King (Davis III), obviously, could play there. Defensively, our secondary would be pretty effective there. They've got pretty good linebackers, but Tra Nixon's a guy who could certainly play there. So we've got some guys.

SN: What are your strengths as a coach?
DM: I think organization and having a vision, and then going after it. Having a plan that I won't deviate from. The players are beginning to learn that a lot of it's about discipline. The classroom especially. I'm really adamant that we are going to be great in the classroom. And, quite honestly, we're not good enough in the classroom right now to meet my standard. And I don't believe you'll ever be successful on the field until you're successful off the field. I will out-stubborn them on that issue. I think just building the infrastructure of the program, I think I feel really comfortable with where I'm going there. And I'd like to think I know something about offensive football. And how to score points and those type of things. I have a lot of enthusiasm for young men. My college coaches had a great impact on me, I enjoy doing that, and hope that comes across on the players that I really care about them. I think that's a strength. I'm stern, but I'm fair.

SN: Anyone on the roster that's been a pleasant surprise?
DM: Getting here as late as I did, there's a lot of the guys that I didn't know that well. But, Thomas Warren, freshman-wise as a DB/corner has really stood out and I really like what I see there. Jay-Fish, Jay Fisher-James, the D-lineman, has been really effective. He's really got a chance to be an impact player for us. Those are the two that really step out right now, in my mind.

SN: We've talked about the wide receivers and replacing Austin Franklin's game-breaking ability. But how's their blocking? You're running some option offense.
DM: I've never seen a great receiver yet that wasn't willing to block. If they're not tough enough to block, they're not tough enough to make a big catch either, with contact coming. We really sold that to our receivers. I think we still got a lot of work to do in that area, but they've made a tremendous amount of progress from the spring to where we are now.

SN: In terms of balance between run and pass, where do you think this team will be?
DM: Every team is different. Sometimes you find out the identity of your team as you're playing during the season. The faster you can figure it out, the more effective you're going to be. I don't know that we know the answer to that. Probably, we'd be a little bit heavier pass right now, than run. But you have to have some balance. There comes a point in every game where you have to be able to run the football. If you don't, you can't win.

SN: Will you run any two-gap technique on the defensive line?
DM: Not very much. That's hard. You really have got to be a special player to do those type of things. What we have to do is really move. We have to be moving our front, moving our coverages. Disguise. We've got to start causing some confusion for the offense. Instead of them being able to just pick up what we're doing.

SN: When you looked at game film last year, what were your thoughts?
DM: The negatives that I saw, particularly defensively, was the lack of turnovers. We caused nine turnovers for the season. Nobody's going to have a successful defensive team if you're only causing nine turnovers. And I felt like we were very predictable on defense. You were going to play man coverage, and you were going to get a 4-3, and that was it. I think with our talent and what we have, we need to be really diverse and really multiple, and be able to put our guys in a lot of different situations to be able to succeed. I don't think that we're good enough just to line up against people and be a target. We need to be moving, and cause some confusion. And then offensively, kind of the same things I thought when I was here before. I thought the skill players really had a lot of potential. Germi Morrison, I thought was a really good back, and obviously the receivers I really like. Scoggins, I thought, would be a really good player. My feeling was that the offensive line was better than it was when I was here before. And I think that's turned out to be true, watching them up to this point.

SN: What's your assessment of regional football talent, particularly in Las Cruces and El Paso? Do you think you could sign two to three players from the area that can help the football team win?
DM: That depends on the talent level in those areas. I think there's certainly going to be one or two players, obviously, in those areas that we would offer and recruit. And we've done that this year. Now whether or not they want to come is a different issue. And I will say this: I want kids that want to be here. I don't want somebody that I have to talk them into coming here, or they come here because they didn't get the offer that they wanted from some big school. I don't want that kid. I want the kid that wants to play for New Mexico State. Because that guy will want to be coached, he'll play here with passion. I don't want somebody that I'm going to have to talk them into playing with passion, and all that stuff. Those guys can go somewhere else. We'll win with the guys that want to be here.

SN: If you were recruiting for this year's team, is there any area you would emphasize now?
DM: I probably would have recruited more defensive players. When I look at our board for the future, we're going to lose a lot of defensive players for this year. And probably did not replace them, already in that last recruiting class, like I would have done had I been here the whole time. And, obviously I've said this before, we've relied too heavily (on) junior colleges and transfer players. Those guys are only here for a year or two and they're gone. It knocks a hole just in the foundation of your program. We've got to get back to just recruiting as many high school players as we possibly can. I just believe that's the way to go, so you can develop those guys.

SN: And in terms of getting fans in the seats? How do you accomplish that for the duration of a season?
DM: Well, winning is never going to change, and winning is everything. So that's always the first deal. But I do think if you put a competitive football team out there, that's entertaining to watch, people want to come and see you play. And I think they want to come and see players play when they feel like they know them, they feel like they're part of it. And that's why we're trying to do as many things as we can in the community here, to reach back and get people to know our players, know our coaches and us. Have Las Cruces be the foundation of this football program. People have been great about understanding that and embracing that so far. I think that can make a big difference. Things like having Zack Bravo as our honorary captain, as a little kid in Las Cruces that's overcome cancer and just has been a great motivator for our football team. He comes and hangs out here. Things like that, I think, mean a lot to a community. I think we have a program here that this community can be proud of.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg


Anonymous said...

One thing that I really admired about Coach Martin in 2011, was his ability to adapt & play to his players strengths!!
I hope he do the same the 2nd time around.

You may recall during Mumme's 1st year. We went from the option to the spread offense.
Both are night & day and not an easy transition.

However, what really stood out was how Mumme was adamant in running his system. The result? A goose egg, 0-12 campaign!!

I guarantee you if Mumme had been a bit more flexible and transitioned with a "Spread option" vs. the spread. NMSU could have won around 3-4 wins vs. going winless. He then could have gone to a full spread in year #2.

I think Coach Martin is smart enough to change it up and can think out of the box when things aren't working.


Anonymous said...

Great interview!! Iteresting that before reading this I thought the run game was the main strength....but now it looks like the pass and wide receiver corps are the strenghth on offense! Great poker hand!! The depth of coaching skills from Martin looks like a whole new world for us.

Anonymous said...

Damn good interview, Teddy!

Keep up those updates.

Anonymous said...

Coach Martin is a good man and a good coach. He reminds an old-timer like me of Coach Jim Hess. He deserves to succeed just like Jim Hess deserved better. Hopefully the players will give it their best and the town and students will show more support. But, to be realistic, he is still fighting the same battle that all before him have lost. We are a small fish in a big pond with much bigger fish with bigger budgets and better players.