KANSAS CITY — Frank Martin's grandmother sat in a small room for 12 hours a day and sewed. His uncle worked the docks in the hot Miami sun. His grandfather died of a heart attack while helping the family escape communist rule.
On Sunday, the son of impoverished Cuban immigrants fulfilled the American dream that had kept his family going through all the tough times, and he could hardly keep from weeping.
Struggling with his composure, Martin said Sunday he had agreed to a contract extension with Kansas State that will boost his annual salary to more than $1.5 million. On the same day, he was also picked as The Associated Press Big 12 coach of the year.
"I'm having a tough time finding words," Martin said.
Seated alongside athletic director John Currie at a hastily called news conference, Martin had to pause several times as he recalled his humble beginnings.
"As I've been reflecting all day today — from selling newspaper ads and being the pool hall change boy when I was 12 to now making the dollar figure that I'm getting ready to make," he said in a quavering voice.
The first man to win 20-plus games in each of his first three seasons at Kansas State, Martin had been one of the lowest-paid coaches in the Big 12 at around $750,000 annually. But a new president and athletic director began contract discussions during the season and accelerated the talks as Martin reeled off victory after victory and fans — many of whom had criticized his hiring — expressed fear they might lose him.
The Wildcats finished the regular season 24-6 overall and 11-5 in the Big 12, second to Kansas. Martin's overall record of 67-30 is the best of any Kansas State coach in their first three seasons.
"We are confident in the continued growth of the program into a regular contender for Big 12 and national honors under coach Martin's ongoing leadership," Currie said.
Currie said Martin would make an average of $1.55 million for the 2010-11 season through 2014-15, and also receive a signing bonus of $462,800, along with a "nationally competitive" incentives program that could add up to 32 percent of his base salary.
A panel of sports writers and sportscasters gave Martin 11 votes while Kansas' Bill Self, who has said Martin deserves to be national coach of the year, collected five.
After releasing the contract details, Currie introduced Martin as the 2010 AP coach of the year and turned the mic over to him. He was silent for more than half a minute and dabbed at his eyes before finally beginning to speak.
"I never knew it was so hard to swallow," he said.
Martin was born in Florida after his family fled Cuba, and he is an unabashed patriot.
"It's the greatest country in the world," he said in an interview with the AP on Saturday. "America gave my family an opportunity to work, to move forward in life. My family had to leave a country that was ready to go into oppression and lose the rights of human beings. Every time I hear that National Anthem, it's very moving to me. It symbolizes what my family is about."
If Martin had been an assistant coach at any other school in April 2007, when Bob Huggins unexpectedly resigned, he probably wouldn't have gotten so much as a return phone call.
It's not because he was unqualified — he has proven beyond doubt that he is.
But he was a relative unknown, spending 15 years as a high school coach in the Miami area before joining the college ranks as an assistant at Northeastern in 2000. In 2004, he joined Huggins' staff in Cincinnati and then came with him to Kansas State in 2006.
He had never been a head coach above the high school level, but Kansas State, desperate to keep super recruits Michael Beasley and Bill Walker and with few other options, gave Martin the career opportunity his family must have dreamed of as they fled Cuba.
This year, he fell just one victory short of tying the school's regular-season record.
"About six years ago I interviewed for a job. Their average attendance was 127 people," Martin said. "There's a lot of jobs like that out there. I am blessed. I'm fortunate I got my first opportunity at such an incredible place."