MANHATTAN, Kan. — The ball is in play, but eyes keep drifting to the bench.
Frank Martin's Kansas State team is playing out the final two minutes of its eventual 80-70 win Saturday over visiting Missouri. Surely he knows his team is going to win, right? It can be hard to tell.
Martin's sideline performance during his team's games are as interesting as the game itself. It's everything you could want in a theater production. There's drama, anger, violence and passion. Talk to people familiar with the Kansas State men's basketball program and you will hear the same thing. As Kansas State senior guard Jacob Pullen says, there is a method to Martin's madness.
Martin was true to form until the two-minute mark. The coach — who looks more like a linebacker — yelled curse words, stabbed with an extended finger that might as well be a dagger and nearly walked onto the court more than once. Even his celebrations have been scary. They don't come often, but when they do, they come in the form of brief punches into the air. His clenched fist makes you wonder what would happen if they were actually meant for someone.
Kent Bartlett has been watching Martin, too. He's a Kansas State fan, but is attending his first game. He sits three rows behind the Kansas State bench that Martin has been sulking, stomping and screaming in front of for 38 minutes.
"He demands perfection, and if he doesn't get it he's upset," Bartlett said.
Martin's attention to detail shows. His dark suit and darker gelled hair never need adjustment, despite the stomping of his shiny black shoes.
Some of the Wildcat players begin to sub out now. Martin offers no high-fives or fist-pounds. He doesn't often acknowledge players on their way to the bench because he is too busy yelling at ones still on the court. But, as soon as the final seconds tick off the scoreboard suspended above the court, the mean, angry Martin has vanished.
"It's like a switch," Bartlett said.
That same dark suit is now worn by a husband, a father and a coach who is proud of his players. Martin walks behind the row of cushy folding chairs and gives an equally cushy hug to family members in attendance.
That's the side of Martin that Bradley Williams wishes people would see more often. As a student, he is a regular at Kansas State basketball games. He is wary to talk about Martin's coaching style. Outsiders don't understand.
"People don't see him off the court," Williams said. "Off the court, he's a wonderful husband. I know that. I can see that when he's around his family. There are times he may do something, or his actions may be perceived in a negative way."
In the past, Martin's actions might have gone too far. After a loss against Missouri in Columbia last year, he apologized for slapping the back of then-senior Chris Merriewether's arm with a little too much force.
Martin immediately admitted his mistake, and said he loved Merriewether.
You see, Martin is just as much a lover as he is a fighter. He will be the first to admit he is emotional.
When he sat down for his postgame press conference, the question had to be asked: "Coach, there is a lot of talk about your intensity on the sideline. Can you explain your coaching style, if you would?"
He has answered the question before, and he is not too fond of it.
But Martin didn't hurdle over the table. He didn't scoff. He chuckled ... he paused ... he answered. Honestly.
"It is what it is, man. Twenty-six years. I have unbelievable passion for what I do. I want people with me that have unbelievable passion for what they do," Martin said. "I hold people accountable. I'm an emotional guy. I tell you what, I've got children. I want people like me to deal with my children when I'm not around them. I don't want people to make their life easy. I want somebody to hold my kids accountable."
His coaching style may be abrasive. He knows that.
"I understand I don't make people happy sometimes, but as long as my players, my bosses, my family believe in me, that's what matters to me," Martin said.
His fans and players seem to understand.
"His passion, sometimes, is misunderstood," Williams said. "He's very aggressive looking. Some people might think he's angry. I think a lot of times he's just passionate about what's going on on the court, and he wants his players to respond and play a certain way. He has high expectations."
Perhaps Pullen understands more than anyone. He surpassed his 2,000th career point on Saturday. His freshman season was Martin's first as the Wildcats' head coach. Martin's on-court tirades are rarely directed toward the Wildcats' best player. But when they are, Pullen understands, too.
"Most coaches tell you what you want to hear to make you happy," Pullen said. "He tells you what you need to hear to make you better."