Aggies coach Martin: 'I feel bad for the football players here' - Albuquerque Journal

Aggies coach Martin: ‘I feel bad for the football players here’

LAS CRUCES – Doug Martin’s job at New Mexico State was listed as the fifth hardest FBS head coaching job in college football in a recent story by The Athletic.

Martin’s salary of $437,000 is the second lowest among the 122 reporting schools according to the U SA Today database.

Martin is in his final year of a four-year contract extension he signed following a Arizona Bowl victory in 2017. There is a clause in his contract that would grant Martin an additional year if the Aggies were to win six or more games this season, but at 1-6 during one of their two open weeks, running the table seems unlikely when considering the remaining opponents on the schedule.

After an extended layoff due to COVID-19 and no games in the fall of 2020, the Aggies have shown glimpses of competitive play this season and the players effort level has remained high.

The 1-6 Aggies returned to practice on Friday and will play at Hawaii next weekend.

In a wide ranging interview with the Sun-News this week, Martin looked back at the first half of the season, ahead to the second half and addressed the program and his contract situation.

Martin on the 2021 season

Sun-News: What would you like to see from the second half of the season?

Doug Martin: Offensively, we have made dramatic improvements. We are really playing pretty good football really since the New Mexico game. Just continue to improve and get our scoring up a little bit higher and we have to cut down on the sacks. Defensively, it really comes down to just giving up big plays. When you look at third down conversions, we are only giving up 33 percent and we are playing pretty good in the red zone, which are two big areas but we give up so many big plays that it equals 37 points per game. I think these guys are still working hard, they are still great to coach.

LCSN: Quarterback Jonah Johnson has had two good games back to back. What would you like to see from him for the rest of the season?

Martin: I think just keep progressing like he is. I think what he has done has been great and he’s getting better. We have to keep protecting him better. At Nevada, we gave up six sacks and he handled it great but have to protect him better.

LCSN: What clicked for Johnson to explain recent play?

Martin: Number 1 he has been getting healthy. It’s like all these other guys. He’s playing his first year of college football. I know I keep saying this and you guys get tired of me saying it, but when you shut a program down for a year and a half, I don’t know what people expect. That is unrecoverable for a football program in one year to recover from that. He’s playing his first year like 43 other guys and in my opinion they are playing their best.

LCSN: They are playing with a lot of effort. There is talent on the roster. Where does that effort level come from considering that you have so many new pieces and they weren’t able to practice or play last year?

Martin: I think we just have great kids. Their character is outstanding. They have really bonded as a team and they are playing for each other. When you play for each other, your effort never lacks.

LCSN: Is there leadership from certain individual or since there are so many new pieces, they want to perform well and don’t know any better?

Martin: It’s probably a mixture of both. Guys are playing their first college football experience and are going to play hard no matter what because it’s new. But our leadership that we’ve had from the older guys like Jared Wyatt, Rob Downs, Trevor Brohard has been great. And then we’ve had some guys we have added that have been great additions like Eli Johnson. He’s a great addition, not only as a player, but as a person. Dom Gicinto, even though he’s hurt, he’s a practice every day and he’s a positive guy. All of that has been good for us.

LCSN: Most of your games have been competitive. Are there any moments looking back you would have done differently that could have flipped the result?

Martin: New Mexico, if Jonah doesn’t get hurt, we win that football game. I’m convinced of that. Hawaii – we got the worst call in the history of football on that pass that was knocked down that was called a lateral and gave them a defensive touchdow n. That was a turning point we didn’t control but those are big plays. When you go back to the UTEP game, we had two touchdown passes called back. Those are big things.

LCSN: Your next game is Hawaii. A team you already played, are the players confident returning to practice knowing they played them tight at home?

Martin: I think they are a confident anyway because most of our games have been competitive and we are getting better and better so they have a good attitude. I think we definitely needed this week off to get physically healed up and just rested emotionally too so I think that will help us. As far as playing somebody twice, obviously they have the same advantages that we have. I think there is probably a little bit of an advantage in that we have an open date this week so it makes the travel easier going to Hawaii. They are playing on the road this week (at Nevada) so they have to travel back home this week so that could play to our advantage a little bit.

LCSN: Are there any injured players who could return this season?

Martin: (Wide receivers Dominic Gicinto and Robert Downs) are working really hard to get back and I thought both of those were going to be done for the year. I don’t really have a timetable on that. (Marcus Buckley) was our best defensive lineman and hasn’t played all year. He’s working to get back but I don’t really have a timetable on him either.

Martin on the state of the program

Martin has consistently pointed out a lack of facilities with the locker room being front and center. Most notably, an overdue need to replace an outdated swamp cooler with central air units. As a result, the school has a tent located outside the locker room. It appears that the school will not be able to install central air units before the end of the season as lead times continue to be an issue that will prohibit the project from being completed in the fall.

LCSN: You have mentioned facilities throughout the season. You have talked about certain things that have not been done. Can you share any conversations with administration or things that you have done to get some of these things you want done behind the scenes?

Martin: I have stayed here all this time because I wanted to build a football program here. Most coaches would have left after the 2017 bowl game. Jim Hess, God love him and God rest his soul, he told me to leave because he said they aren’t going to invest in the program and he was right, unfortunately. That was a seminal moment when we won that bowl game, that was a window to put something together, a capital campaign to invest in football and build facilities. That is what San Jose State is doing, that is what UNLV is doing, what San Diego State is doing. We gave everyone the reason to do it because we won a bowl game. After the 2017 season, nothing here ever changed for the football players. It’s still the same locker room. Still the same stuff.

You saw the newscast where the palm tree is growing inside the stadium. That is out there because it was on the news. You have the locker room that hasn’t had air conditioning in three years. that is all over social media. We have a tent for the locker room. You be New Mexico State football coach for a minute and come into my house to recruit me. You give your spiel, and then I ask you, ‘Well Coach Groves, New Mexico and UTEP were just here and they told me you have palm trees growing in your stadium, you don’t have air conditioning in your locker room and you use a tent for a locker room. Why would I come there?’

I’m not trying to be negative to the administration here. Everybody wants to blame coaches, they have here forever from Hal Mumme to DeWayne Walker to Jim Hess. At what point does somebody here say how in the world do we want them to go recruit a player? These are the questions that any coach that is here is going to be asked in recruiting. I don’t have an answer for that.

I feel bad for the football players here. You shouldn’t have a tent for a locker room. We are in a pandemic. You want 100 players in a locker room that doesn’t have ventilation or air conditioning and it’s been three years. You wonder why recruiting is hard here. That is why because other schools are using this against us and I would too if I was them.

There was also Club 27, which was $1 million. If they would have combined that with the Allen money, that could have been $1.5 million for the locker room instead of something that is only used five times per year. (For context, Allen Theatres donated approximately $600,000 in 2017 that funded a renovation of the locker room and air conditioning units in the weight room facility. Club 27 was constructed in 2015 and was paid for after $1 million gift from Stan Fulton, owner of the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, and an additional contribution from Citizens Bank of Las Cruces.)

We missed a great opportunity in 2017. Anyplace else where they won their first bowl game in 57 years, there would be a major investment in the players.

LCSN: So a new locker room would be at the top of your list in terms of facilities?

Martin: A locker room for the health of the players has to be done. We are in a pandemic, since we put the tent up, we have not had one positive COVID test. To me, that means that locker room is not safe for the player’s health. … The last two weeks, we have had eight to 10 players miss at least one day of practice. (Aggies head trainer (Dominic Moreno) and I both in agreement. We link it back to the locker room because there is no ventilation and there are 100 people in there. The No. 1 thing is for the health of the players but will never be able to recruit here unless you have something to show the players.

Martin on his contract situation

Martin’s contract is currently set to expire on June 30 and, barring an arrangement between the coach and the university to go their separate ways while paying Martin for the remainder of his deal, it appears the head coach will be able to see his ninth season through the duration.

“I have no plans to make any changes in football or any other sport at the moment,” New Mexico State athletics director Mario Moccia said on Thursday.

LCSN: There have not been any conversations in season about a contract extension?

Martin: I have never had any conversations in years about it other than we asked for a year because of COVID, which to me was the most unfair thing in the world for our football staff because we did not play or practice for that whole year and yet it was counted as a year on our contract. It was incredibly unfair and it killed us in recruiting because last year when we had to come off the season where we weren’t playing and were shut down, we had to go recruit and replace all of these players. We only had one year left on our contract so that is not a lot to sell players. Now, we don’t have any years left so we can’t recruit at all.

LCSN: Are you recruiting right now?

Martin: We are talking to kids and everything but we have no way to get the interest of any player to come here and visit or anything like that because they don’t know who are going to be the coaches. That is just a fact. To ask anybody to come here on an official visit is impossible right now.

LCSN: Do you plan to finish the season? Would there be any situation where you would step down in season?

Martin: No. I would never quit on the players. I’ve always asked these players to never quit. I would never quit on these players. In fact, that is the only reason I came back this year was because of these players, this particular group and how great they have been. I don’t think any coach should ever quit on his players.

OCT. 23: New Mexico State (1-6) at Hawaii (3-3 heading into Saturday’s game vs. UNLV), 10 p.m., 99.5 FM (Las Cruces)

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