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COMMENTARY : CSUN Players Become Casualties of Martin’s Forced Resignation

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A sign, which probably appeared on the desk of some overworked and underpaid secretary, said something like, “We have, for so long, done so much with so little, we will next attempt the impossible with nothing.”

No telling who coined the phrase, but Cal State Northridge women’s basketball players are living it.

Apparently not content to have a team merely stuck in the basement with an 0-9 record, school officials knocked the Matadors’ elevator from its hinges, dismantled it and buried the pieces. Coach Janet Martin got the shaft.

Officially, Martin stepped down Dec. 12, saying in a statement released by the school’s sports information office that it was “in the best interests of the program that I resign at this time.”

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Meanwhile, Bob Hiegert, Northridge’s athletic director, and Judith Brame, an associate athletic director, feigned surprise. “I suspect,” Brame said, “she had been thinking about it for a while.”

Several minutes, in fact.

In truth, Martin quit as much of her own volition as did Gorbachev. She was called away from practice for a meeting with Hiegert and Brame and given two options: resign, or start shuffling papers in Northridge’s equivalent of Siberia, the student-affairs department.

And that stuff about in the “best interests of the program . . . ?” She says those words never came from her mouth. It was a made-for-release quote dubbed into the paper work that Martin signed.

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The following day, after explaining that she had been sick and not able to clearly think the situation through, Martin said she wished that she had not been so hasty to sign on the dotted line. She feared that her players might believe she had given up on them.

She need not fear at all. Northridge players say Martin is a good coach who makes mistakes but learns from them. They also say she was dedicated to developing the team into a competitive Division I unit.

Aggressive, high-energy, 30-year-old basketball coaches do not suddenly choose to resign nine games into a season. At least not if they wish to someday secure gainful employment elsewhere.

From the time Martin’s resignation was announced, it was painfully obvious that several details were being glossed over. Her record, 10-26 in a little more than a season, certainly was nothing to gloat about. But it could have been worse.

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Pete Cassidy, the Northridge men’s basketball coach, had 19 years to practice coaching at the small-college level and his Division I record is 8-28 in the same span, including an 0-8 mark this season. He has yet to “resign.”

Hiegert avoided listing specific reasons for Martin’s removal but did allude that she had struggled with recruiting and had botched some arrangements on trips.

Indeed, a trio of Martin’s first recruiting class had their problems--none of which were her fault.

Rachel Ward, a freshman shooting guard, returned to Orange County within hours of checking in at her dorm room. She said she was homesick.

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Jill Stephens, a fine all-around player who signed out of Bakersfield College, was injured in a car accident and needed a season off to rehabilitate.

Moorpark College’s Kerrie Marshall, one of the state’s most talented junior college players, committed to Northridge but backed out and signed with a small college in Georgia because it is located conveniently close to a relative’s home.

All three were expected to contribute heavily.

Then, when the season started, things went from bad to worse. Bridgette Ealy, the team’s top player, and Lisa Senette, a starting guard, both sustained knee injuries. Ealy is out for the season and Senette will not see game action until at least February.

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Travel arrangements, as one might imagine, were not exactly Martin’s top priority.

Northridge players say there were occasions when hotel accommodations and meals were rather unorganized, but nothing so hideously scrambled that the coach should have been canned.

Rather, they say Martin and Brame, who coached the Matadors for eight seasons during the 1970s and early ‘80s, were guilty of poor communication.

Brame, insiders say, started looking over Martin’s shoulder shortly after hiring her in August of last year. Martin, who had been an interim head coach at Colorado State and before that an assistant at San Diego State when the Aztecs were ranked eighth in the nation, responded coldly and made it clear that she planned to run things her way.

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At one point last season, Martin reportedly went so far as to ask Brame to refrain from dropping by during practice sessions.

In retrospect, Martin says, she regrets not going to greater lengths to explain her actions.

It seems Martin’s stay at Northridge might have been doomed from the start. She took over only 16 months ago, after Leslie Milke, a Brame protege, resigned after seven seasons to pursue other interests.

Martin was hired in whirlwind fashion, although her only experience as a college head coach was a 13-game stint at Colorado State. Her first season was spent tutoring players--none of whom she had recruited--in her up-tempo style, a pace for which they were not suited.

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Ironically, Kim Chandler, in her first season as a Northridge assistant, finds herself in a similar position as Martin’s temporary replacement. Chandler, as was Martin, is considered a knowledgeable up-and-comer. But her current situation only underscores the school’s mistake in dismissing its coach at midseason.

Chandler, 25, has been placed in a no-win predicament, both literally and figuratively. Because of injuries and bad luck, Northridge simply doesn’t have the players to compete successfully against the likes of USC, UCLA, Nebraska and San Diego State, teams it will face in the next month.

Chandler says she has been told not to worry about the team’s record and instead to concentrate on recruiting. But to what end?

Is not a recruit’s first question likely to be along the lines of, “Who is going to be my coach?” Right now that is a question Chandler cannot answer.

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Certainly, Chandler should not be judged by her record in closing out this season at Northridge. But the odds would seem long on Hiegert and Brame hiring another young and relatively inexperienced head coach anyway, based on their experience with Martin.

Yet, if Chandler does a solid coaching job, it would seem that Northridge owes her a place on staff next season.

On the other hand, what self-respecting head coach would take a job without being able to select his/her own assistant?

As for Martin, she will be kept on the Northridge payroll through February.

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As for the Matador players, they could pay for Martin’s dismissal for a considerably longer time.


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