High School Football

What helped James Martin stay focused the last 6 months and earn Northwestern’s head coaching job?

What’s the main thing James Martin wants to instill in his Northwestern Trojans football program?

Northwestern’s James Martin had the interim tag officially removed on Feb. 6, 2018. The Trojans’ head football coach talked Wednesday about the No. 1 thing he wants to imprint on his program.
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Northwestern’s James Martin had the interim tag officially removed on Feb. 6, 2018. The Trojans’ head football coach talked Wednesday about the No. 1 thing he wants to imprint on his program.

James Martin narrowed his focus for six months while serving as Northwestern High School’s interim football coach.

“Going back to September and they ask you to be the interim, and again, you have to understand your job,” he said Wednesday. You’re interim head coach, your job is to be the head coach until they make a decision. I didn’t waver in that. I made sure everyday that no matter what happened I’m gonna prepare myself for it.”

Martin interviewed for the job in late January. Two other unnamed candidates were interviewed and two more were invited to interview, though one later cancelled and the other never responded to the invitation. Martin learned he’d been named the official head coach on Friday, Feb. 2, and signed his official offer that same day.

“High school football today is very much like a business, like college. It kind of trickles down from the NFL,” Martin said. “You just keep carrying on and doing your job. The flip side is if I wasn’t selected I have to live with that. That’s the business we’re in as coaches and we have to understand that.”

After leaving South Meck in 2012 to become Northwestern’s defensive coordinator, Martin didn’t really think about being a head coach again. But when Kyle Richardson left Northwestern for a job at Clemson in 2016, Martin began to get the itch.

He applied, unsuccessfully, for the job in 2016. But he didn’t leave when defensive line coach David Pierce was hired instead.

The Northwestern situation has been great for Martin, who has four sons, including one, Cameron, who will graduate from Northwestern this summer. Martin has been around his kids the last few years more than he otherwise might have been, and he’s delighted that can continue.

He essentially got to try out for the head coaching position by coaching the team for its final seven games after Pierce was fired last September. It was a difficult circumstance, but it helped everyone see that Martin could be the head coach.

“It allowed not only the players, but the coaching staff, administration, everybody to say, ‘okay. He’s showing us that he can handle it,’ and I’m showing myself,” said Martin. “You never enjoy the circumstances, but as coaches we’re always asked to monitor and adjust, just like a halftime adjustment, and that’s what I had to do this year, and not only me but the whole coaching staff, the players, the whole program.”

Martin inherits a program that has sturdy infrastructure and support systems. He said that Northwestern football does a good job of being present and active in the community but that he wants to take those efforts “a step or two further.” He spoke at length about strengthening connections with the community and with his players. Northwestern athletic director Lauren West said in the press release announcing Martin’s hiring that his “ability to foster positive relationships with all stakeholders” was one of his chief strengths.

Martin bringing a DJ down to Northwestern’s football weight training class one morning last fall is an example of that. The kids loved it, dancing and rapping as the DJ scratched records while they lifted weights with a cheerfulness not seen in a while. Martin said -- with a big grin -- that he has some more ideas to freshen things up in the program this coming year, but he’s keeping them secret for now.

There is still some arranging to do with the coaching staff. Offensive line coach Sam Mallard was let go and wide receivers coach Paige Wofford left to take the offensive coordinator job at Daniel High School, so Martin has two openings to fill. Mitch Walters served as the interim offensive coordinator after OC Robert Hellams was let go along with Pierce, but it’s not clear yet if he’ll continue in that role.

Martin said the Trojans will still use the Air Raid offense in the immediate future, but that everything is on the table in the next few months. Player personnel will determine what offensive and defensive schemes Martin’s Trojans use and spring football practice, which begins May 1, will start to give some answers.

“If you don’t have the ability to run certain things then you shouldn’t run it,” Martin said.