Russ Martin was looking forward to recruiting and preparing for the 2020 season with the young Colorado Mesa football team.
All that will now be up to someone else after Martin and CMU “mutually agreed to part ways,” according to a release issued late Thursday afternoon.
Martin, 63, and the majority of his coaching staff will be replaced despite just finishing the sixth straight winning season at CMU.
“It was a surprise, but it is what it is,” Martin said Thursday afternoon in a phone interview with The Daily Sentinel. “Sometimes the visions don’t mesh. They wanted to move a different direction, so we mutually agreed if that’s the case, that’s the case.”
In eight seasons, Martin went 56-33, won three Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference titles and reached the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2016, losing 34-23 to Texas A&M-Commerce. CMU had six All-Americans during his tenure, including wide receiver Peter Anderson after his record-setting 2018 junior season.
On Wednesday, 11 players received all-conference honors, including freshman Justin White, the special teams player of the year.
Hired in January, 2012 to replace Joe Ramunno, Martin’s first two teams went a combined 9-13, but then started winning. After a 6-4 season in 2014, the Mavericks went 9-2 in 2015, winning the first of three straight RMAC titles.
This year’s team had high hopes, but injuries thrust several freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores into crucial roles.
Martin also never settled on a starting quarterback, rotating three throughout the season, and the offense was inconsistent from week to week. The Mavericks won back-to-back games only once, the final two of the season.
The injuries did pave the way for underclassmen to get valuable playing time and after CMU’s final game of the season, a 51-13 rout of New Mexico Highlands, Martin said the future was bright.
“We’ve got an unbelievable amount of experience coming back offensively and the same defensively,” he said after Saturday’s game.
“Looking ahead, I think there are some extremely bright days ahead for this program.”
A national search for the program’s 19th football coach will begin immediately.
“We would like to thank Russ for his time and energy over the past eight seasons to help further the tradition of Maverick Football,” Co-Director of Athletics Bryan Rooks said in the release. “We wish him the best in the future.”
Rooks did not return messages left on his office and cell phones Thursday afternoon and evening.
Some assistant coaches will be retained to coordinate recruiting and run the offseason conditioning program. National signing day is Feb. 5.
“I’m super proud of these young men and what they’ve accomplished and I’m so thankful for the coaches that invested their lives and their hearts into our program and all the things that go with it,” Martin said.
“I’m very thankful for President (Tim) Foster for the opportunity to come here and I’m also very thankful that Butch Miller took a chance on me eight years ago and for all the things Tom Spicer did in his time here, and for every one of these coaches. They invested time, energy and their lives into this program, and for the young men that we’ve had the opportunity to coach.”
Miller and Spicer are former athletic directors at CMU.
Although the Mavericks had success on the field under their popular, energetic head coach, there were problems off the field. Several players were suspended for violating team rules and poor grades, and others had legal issues in the past few years.
Former defensive lineman William Milo was arrested for assault in 2016, and last season, running back Brett Ojiyi was fatally shot in what was ruled an accidental shooting. Two former players were among the people at the apartment when Ojiyi, who was not eligible to play, was killed.
Martin said he didn’t know how much off-field incidents factored into CMU’s administration wanting to make a change.
“To be honest, I don’t know all the things that went into it,” he said. “When they said they wanted to go a different direction I said, ‘Well, obviously, that’s your right.’ ”
He isn’t sure what the future holds, but he wants to keep coaching.
“I have no clue. We believe God’s got a plan and we’re just going to pray for it to unfold and for us to have patience to wait and know when the time is right,” Martin said. “I’d like to stay in the coaching realm and stay on the football field, but you never know.”