Tina Martin has done something that used to be common, but now is rare – she’s become a lifer at the University of Delaware.
Martin just won her 400th game as Blue Hens’ women’s basketball coach, and she did it in her 21st year in Newark. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since Martin and associate head coach Jeanine Radice arrived on campus for Martin’s first shot at a head coaching job – she had been an assistant at Seton Hall – and now the young woman who came to Newark in 1996 is an elder stateswoman at Delaware and in the Colonial Athletic Conference, where Martin has more victories than any other current coach.
It used to be that coaches in general and Delaware coaches in particular were lifers – they came to Newark and never left. Now, a lot of them (Dave Nelson, Tubby Raymond, Bob Hannah, Harry Rawstrom) have facilities and buildings and stadiums named after them. Those former coaches are all in the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame, along with other long-time UD coaches like Bill Murray, Mary Ann Hitchens, Scotty Duncan, Ted Kempski, Irv Wizniewski and Roy Rylander. And all of those coaches are in the Hall of Fame not just because they were good at what they did, but also because of how long they did it.
That longevity doesn’t happen very often in the 21st century. Delaware is a school that at one time had just three football coaches in 61 years and now has had three coaches in the last five years. And while Martin keeps forging ahead, the men’s basketball team has had four coaches during her tenure.
Only three head coaches have been at Delaware longer than Martin – Laura Travis (women’s tennis since 1992), John Hayman (swimming and diving since 1989) and Bob Shillinglaw (men’s lacrosse since 1979). Shillinglaw’s 39 years is the second longest tenure for a head coach in UD history, surpassed only by the 41 years that Roy Rylander was the tennis coach.
But Delaware’s other coaches were all hired after 2000; in fact, the average hiring year for the other 14 coaches was 2010. And that makes Martin’s longevity especially noteworthy.
The secret to Martin’s success has been consistency, and that’s not an easy thing to attain at the mid-major level. It’s easy for major programs like Connecticut and Notre Dame to simply reload every season with another round of high school All-Americans. But most mid-major programs rise and fall depending on their current recruiting class and they have to work harder when it comes to recruiting players and developing them. But Martin has won at least 20 games 12 times in her career at Delaware, and that ain’t bad. Even more impressive is the fact that, not counting her first two rebuilding seasons, Martin’s teams have finished with a losing record only twice.
And that consistent success has stretched past the regular season. In the 15 years the Blue Hens have been members of the CAA, her teams have made it at least as far as the semi-finals of the conference tournament 13 times (in that same span, the men’s team reached the semi-finals four times).
Of course, Martin also had the incredible good fortune to have Elena Delle Donne on her roster for four years. That propelled Delaware to heights it had never reached before and will never reach again, as the Blue Hens made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. The success Delaware had during the Delle Donne era certainly boosted Martin’s profile, not to mention her won-loss record, but name one great coach who hasn’t had great players.
And don’t forget, Martin’s team won 21 games the year after Delle Donne graduated. Another important statistic is the fact that Martin’s teams – again, not counting her first two years — have never had back-to-back losing seasons. So, even if the Hens struggle for a while, it never lasts long. And that’s what consistency is all about.
Martin may not stay at Delaware forever, but she’s already been here longer than anybody could have anticipated back in 1996. She and Radice have put together a program that has endured and even prospered, and that’s why Tina Martin will one day be inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame, just like so many UD lifers before her.