Chuck Martin is missing only one element of turning Miami into what he envisioned when he took over as head coach in 2014.
He and his RedHawks will come head-to-head with that vision this week.
“When we got here, I looked around the league, and there’s a lot of good teams,” Martin said. “I’m trying to think, like, ‘I want to become like one of these good teams. Who do we want to become like? Who’s the picture of Miami five years from now?’”
He settled on Miami’s hated rivals, the Ohio Bobcats. He told his players and assistant coaches that’s the type of program he wanted to establish.
At that point, OU was enjoying a streak of five consecutive seasons with at least seven wins and a bowl game.
Head coach Frank Solich arrived in Athens after the 2004 season, inheriting a team that had won just 18 games since the turn of the century. It took him only one year to lead the Bobcats back to the Mid-American Conference Championship game and bowl eligibility with a nine-win 2006. His team has earned six or more victories in every season but one since then.
“They’re right there every year,” Martin said. “Whether they win our side [division] or don’t win our side, they’re right in the hunt every year. They’re always predicted to, and there’s a reason. They play really good football, and they’re really consistent.”
Martin’s situation was a little bit tougher and took a little bit longer to correct. He signed on to coach arguably the worst program in Division I college football. The RedHawks suffered through a winless 0-12 2013 season before Martin accepted the head coaching position.
He trudged through two will-testing seasons to start. First, two wins. Then, three. Miami lost to Ohio both seasons, and again in the two years after that.
“First year, we had them down,” Martin said, “but they were way better than us. They came back to beat us. Second year, it’s 31-0 at halftime. I told Frank after the game, ‘Hey, that wasn’t even a good scrimmage for you guys. It’s embarrassing.’”
But Martin kept telling Solich something else, too.
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“‘We’re going to become you,’” Martin said.
The talent level on Martin’s Miami squads improved every year. The RedHawks won six games and earned a bowl berth in 2016, dropped to 5-7 in 2017 and went 6-6 last season. They even beat the Bobcats in a 30-28 thriller — only the third time Miami has beaten OU during Solich’s tenure and the first in Martin’s.
Ohio chugged along. 8-6, 9-4, 9-4. Consistent as ever.
That’s the last element for Martin’s RedHawks to grasp, as his team battles its model for first place in the MAC tomorrow night.
Five years have gone by. Martin’s picture of Miami is almost painted. He can add another stroke to it at 8 p.m. tomorrow night in Athens. The conference’s top spot is on the line.
“I’m very proud of our organization, that I think we have become that,” Martin said. “I think we’ve become a very mirror image.”
We’ll find out just how accurate that reflection is tomorrow.