Following a breakthrough 2016 season in which the Miami RedHawks football program won six straight games to reach bowl eligibility, many expected the 2017 campaign to bring a Mid-American Conference Championship to Oxford. However, following an underwhelming 5-7 season full of missed opportunities and disappointing losses, the Red and White failed to take the next step many were hoping to see.
Despite the frustration many RedHawk fans felt after 2017, Miami announced head coach Chuck Martin's contract has been extended through January of 2020, referencing the steady progress the program has made since Martin took over following a winless 2013 season.
"Chuck continues to reinvigorate the Miami football program," Athletic Director David Sayler said in a press release. "Resurrecting a program that was on a 16-game losing streak to winning a MAC East Championship three years later shows that Miami football can compete with the top of the Mid-American Conference for years to come."
Since Martin's inaugural season in 2014, the RedHawks have slowly worked their way back to relevance in the MAC, increasing their win total each of Martin's first three years. In an era when other programs often demand instant on-field results, Miami has shown patience to let Martin and his staff transform the culture of the team.
"We've gone from where we couldn't beat anybody in this league to where we can legitimately say we're a conference championship contender," Martin said. "They [athletic department] can see that we're well-positioned for the long-haul."
As the former Notre Dame assistant has developed his brand of Miami football, players have bought into the vision Martin and the school as a whole have for where this program can be and where it is heading.
"When Coach Martin came here four years ago, it was a train wreck," Redshirt junior quarterback Gus Ragland said. "We feel like our work still isn't done, so to have Coach Martin renewed, it gives the team a lot of confidence."
Players such as Ragland have been a reflection of the on-field progress the RedHawks have made in Martin's four years -- the Cincinnati native gunslinger has been a staple of Miami's offense, winning all six of his starts in the 2016 season while throwing for 1,537 yards and 17 touchdowns. Among Ragland's favorite targets is talented Redshirt junior receiver James Gardner, who hauled in 47 passes for 927 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, enough to be on the watch-list for the nation's top pass-catcher.
To go along with performance improvements, Martin believes the way in which his program is run is just as responsible for his extension. Rather than trying to attract transfer players to instantly bring wins, Martin believes he has built Miami football the right way -- accumulating high-quality players through competitive recruiting within the conference and developing them once they are enrolled.
"There's a certain way at Miami with everything we do," Martin said. "We're trying to do things at a really high level and we're trying to do it the right way. Miami's not about cutting corners for success."
Martin has been around the college football world for his entire career which got its start as a graduate assistant at Mankato State in 1992. After bouncing around lower-level programs during the rest of the 1990s, the current RedHawk head man started as a defensive assistant at Grand Valley State in 2000 where he eventually became head coach in 2004. In 2010, Martin joined Brian Kelly's staff at Notre Dame until becoming Miami's head coach.
Rather than looking for the next stop in his coaching career, Martin instead sees a bright future for the 'Hawks decades into the future. Currently, promising young players such as freshman running back Jaylon Bester and wide receiver Dom Robinson are found up and down the roster along with established veterans including senior linebackers Brad Koenig and Junior McMullen.
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"We've positioned our program to be good for 30 years," Martin said. "I think we'll fight for conference championships for the next 30 years."
Despite the positive outlook, the Red and White face an uphill battle in 2018, as Miami's regular season includes tilts against Minnesota, Cincinnati, Marshall, and Army to go along with challenging MAC opponents. With this in mind, Martin and the rest of the team are taking no time to celebrate the progress already made, instead looking ahead to the work still to be done.
"We've come a long way in four years," Martin said. "Are we where we want to be yet? Heck no. We're maybe three quarters up the mountain. We still got a good chunk to go."