Final Four could boost Gamecock assistants in quest for head jobs

Scott Hood, GamecockCentral.com
Gamecock Central
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South Carolina athletics dept.

NEW YORK, NY – Frank Martin has earned a six-figure bonus for leading South Carolina into the Final Four, annually the pinnacle event in college basketball.

But another group could benefit from the Gamecocks’ unlikely March run to NCAA glory as well – Martin’s assistant coaches.

Top assistant Matt Figger has long been touted as ‘head coach ready’ by Martin, who was elevated from assistant to head coach by Kansas State in 2007 following Bob Huggins’ exit for West Virginia. Figger has coached alongside his current boss for a decade and has served as the Gamecocks’ associate head coach for five seasons.

Will the Final Four platform serve as the catalyst for Figger’s breakthrough and enable him to finally secure a long-deserved head coaching job?

Martin hopes so.

“I can't wait for somebody to give Matt a head job,” Martin said. “He's a stud. It's just a matter of time. Matt Figger is going to be an unbelievable head coach as soon as he is given an opportunity.”

Former Martin assistant Brad Underwood left after his first season for Stephen F. Austin and led them to NCAA Tournament success before coaching at Oklahoma State in 2016-17 until being named the new head coach at Ilinois a couple of weeks ago.

Another assistant, Perry Clark, has been a head coach at three different schools (Tulane, Miami and Texas A&M Corpus Christi) and won over 400 games in a coaching career that has spanned 37 years. Besides scouting opponents, one of Clark’s main jobs is keeping Martin on the straight and narrow in terms of game strategy.

Clark is valuable because he is fearless as far as telling Martin when something isn’t working.

“PC stays in my ear,” Martin said. “Everyone thinks your assistants just sit there and agree with the head coach. He's not thin-skinned and his job is to tell me when he thinks I'm doing something wrong. (He is not afraid of) me not agreeing with him. He doesn't sit there and pout. That's why he's so good at what he does and how much he helps me.”

The third Gamecock assistant coach is up-and-comer Bruce Shingler, who began his college coaching career at Baltimore-based Morgan State in 2011 before moving cross-town to Towson State for four seasons (2012-16).

“He's phenomenal in his own way,” Martin said of Shingler. “We have a great staff. I work hard, but I'm not real smart. That’s why I end up trusting in people and surrounding myself with people that know what they're doing so they can help me and most importantly, help (the players).”

The Martin coaching tree is growing – and will continue to expand in the future – because he gives his assistants plenty of responsibilities and steps back and allows them the freedom to do their jobs.

Unlike some head coaches, Martin is not a micro-manager.

“They will tell you I give my assistants a lot of responsibilities,” Martin said. “The assistants run the scouting reports. Not me. I'm there to support them in the scout. I'm trying to help them prepare to become head coaches. I ask them to teach, I ask them to coach.”

Martin maintains consistency in his coaching staff – Figger has been in Columbia for Martin’s entire tenure, while Clark is in his fourth season – puts the Gamecock players at ease and allows them to focus on basketball and not on which coaches are coming and going.

“We have an unbelievable amount of loyalty towards one another,” Martin said. “That consistency we have as a staff relays to all the players. They see how consistent we are, how loyal we are with one another, so it makes them be loyal to each other and loyal to everything that we do.”

FINAL FOUR SCHEDULE (Sat. April 1)

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga, 6:09 p.m.

Oregon vs. North Carolina, Approx. 8:49 p.m.

(All Times Eastern)

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