Second(ary) to none

Colorado Mesa coach Russ Martin addresses his team during a scrimmage at Stocker Stadium.

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 and Bryan Rooks, CMU's co-director of athletics, said Thursday night he hopes to have a new coach hired before Christmas or soon after the first of the year.

The job has already been posted on CMU's website, as well as with the NCAA and American Football Coaches Association.

"There are a lot of ticker words you can put out there that this is what I'm looking for but I'll be honest, I'm excited to see the quality of candidates that will possibly apply to be the next coach of this institution," Rooks said. "I don't have anything earmarked at this stage. I have a lot of thoughts and I'm excited what quality of candidates will throw their hat into the ring."

Assistant coach Riley Newcomer and two part-time coaches, Brian Blechen and Mike Barela, were asked to stay on to coordinate recruiting and run the offseason 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.

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 or poor grades, and others had legal issues in the past few years.

The accidental shooting death of running back Brett Ojiyi last season had a profound effect on the program.

Martin said he didn't know how much off-field incidents factored into CMU's administration deciding 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.' "

"I don't think that was part of it," Rooks said of the off-field incidents. "We do the same evaluation process for all coaches at the end of the season and again, we had a good conversation with Coach Martin and I'm not going to go into details of that closed-door conversation, but the outcome was what we've already stated."

Martin 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."

Recommended for you