Martin's system breeds another generation of successful coaches

Last Saturday, Eddie Martin knew what awaited him.

No matter what his Norcross Blue Devils did in the Region 7-AAAAA championship game, the head coach would be going up against a former assistant coach in the first round of the state tournament.

With Shiloh and Brookwood meeting in the third-place game in Region 8-AAAAA, Martin was well aware that he'd be coaching against either Shiloh's Don Einolf - an assistant for him at Norcross - or Brookwood's Craig Witmer, who was an assistant under Martin at Brookwood before taking the Broncos' head job when Martin stepped down.

"Yeah, it was one of those situations where you knew going in, from what happened (in the 8-AAAAA tourney) on Friday night, one of those guys was going to be playing us on Friday," Martin said. "So it was a little weird."

But the fact that Martin has more than a dozen former players or assistants who have successfully followed in his footsteps isn't strange at all.

At least not according to the men who have worked for him.

"When I first got there, he really opened my eyes to the game of basketball," said Central Gwinnett head coach David Allen, who was an assistant for Martin at Brookwood for five years. "Just through his demeanor and the way he carries himself on the basketball floor, he's very professional."

Martin's imprint is certainly visible in the Black Knights' program.

During a recent junior varsity game between Norcross and Central Gwinnett, some Blue Devil varsity players were watching from the stands and were stunned at what they saw.

They turned to their head coach and asked, "Why is Central running all of our plays?"

That's the impact that Martin has had on Allen and all of the other former players and assistants that are still in the profession.

They all still use many of the plays and philosophies they learned under the local coaching legend.

"I've done what he's taught me," said Einolf, who led the Generals to a first-place finish during the Region 8-AAAAA regular season. "You learn what your team is about. When he got to Norcross, he made a point during that first summer of learning his players, learning what their strengths and weaknesses were.

"And that's what I did (at Shiloh). I learned everything I could over the summer. It was about preparation, and I feel like that's the part he taught me."

The fact that many of his former coaches have tried instilling similar systems in their own programs is quite a compliment to Martin, whose current Norcross team is 23-4 and ranked No. 3 in the state.

"But remember, I stole everything I did," Martin said with a laugh. "I didn't make anything up."

Maybe not. But his attention to detail, his attention to every little thing he sees on tape or watching a game is one of the characteristics that his disciples have taken with them.

"I think a lot of the little things you learn from him deal with work ethic," said Witmer, who has led Brookwood to three state tournament appearances in five years. "Not just in basketball, but it applies to my job at school as a teacher. It applies to being a husband or a father.

"One of the many things I got from him and I tell my team this all the time, 'You get out of things what you put into them.'"

Said Allen: "Just the overall way he approaches games and the way he approaches practice, I haven't seen it in any other system."

Well except for maybe his. Or Shiloh's. Or Brookwood's. Or any other school where Martin has a former player or assistant on the bench.

In total, there have been 16 Martin-ites who have gone on to become head coaches or assistant coaches at a high school or college, including 14 who are still active.

"It's really amazing how many are still coaching at some level," Martin admits.

Martin has been in the county for more than three decades - first as a star player at Central Gwinnett, then as a coach at both Brookwood and Norcross - but that's not the main reason he has such a long roster of proteges in the profession.

"He's been here a while, but I don't think it's longevity," Witmer said. "The intangibles he brings and everything else is more important than the fact that he played here and coached here."

And Martin almost sounds like a doting father talking about one of his kids - in fact, his son Brent is currently an assistant on the Norcross team.

"I'm so proud of what they've done," Martin said. "They're your assistants or former players or both and when they got out and get a job and do well - I know in some small part everybody's going to develop their own philosophy - but if some small part of their success was taking as a little piece of what you've done, that's very rewarding."

There's a reason, according to Martin, that he relishes in his former assistants' accomplishment so much.

"When you approach it from a family atmosphere, which is where we try to approach it from, all the people that play for you are extended family," he said. "So to see someone do well is very rewarding."

That works both ways, too.

All of Martin's former assistants and coaches would no doubt take great joy and pride if their former leader was to bring home the state championship this year. Well, all except Witmer and Einolf, who are still in the tournament and would probably rather win it themselves.

"I think it would be great for him," Allen said. "It's one of the things that has eluded him over the years. He and his teams have taken just about every other honor there is, but that state championship is the one thing that coaches are ultimately trying to get."

Thanks to Martin, there are 14 other coaches that get to chase championship dreams of their own.