Ben Martin, the handsome Air Force Academy football mentor, is best noted for having established an excellent football program, for giving the academy a viable residence in the major college football neighborhood, and for consistently administrating at a first class level.
A native of Prospect Park, Pennsylvania, Martin attended Hill Preparatory School and Princeton University before his appointment to the Naval Academy in 1943. He started every varsity football game at Navy for three seasons as an end and halfback, and he graduated sixth in his class in 1946.
In 1949, Martin joined Eddie Erdelatz as assistant coach at Navy and in 1956 took over the head-coaching job at Virginia. Two years later, Martin replaced Buck Shaw at the Air Force Academy.
Martin was never able to match the unbeaten, 9-0-2, record his first AFA team accomplished in 1958 when the young academy fielded its first seniors. But he did bring credibility to the academy, and season after season he punctuated his schedule with remarkable upsets, including those over such powerhouses as UCLA, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Army and many more.
By this time, the AFA was recognized as a companion academy with both Army and Navy, and Martin’s football headlines did much to make this possible. People no longer asked, “What’s an Air Force Academy?”
“I have a job to do”, Martin said after being informed of the 1965 scandal that trimmed several blue chip players off his roster. “Sure it’s one of the biggest challenges of my life, but you’ve got to live a long time to run out of challenges.”
Martin’s twenty-year record at the Air Force Academy included ninety-six wins, 103 losses and nine ties. No deadlock was more surprising and did more to keynote his 1958 club than a 13-13 tie with the powerful Iowa. The Hawkeyes were forced to come from behind in the final two minutes.
Besides having the longest tenure of any coach in service academy history, Martin, in 1977, served as president of the American Football Coaches Association. Both were milestones in his career. In 1978, he was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
One of the most astute public speakers in sports, Martin has authored two books on football, Ben Martin’s Flexible-T Offense, and End Play. He also coached all-star teams in post-season competition, notably the North-South game and the East-West Shrine game in San Francisco.
During Martin’s career, he was wooed by several other colleges and by professional teams in both the American and National Football Leagues. But Martin vowed he would never leave the academy. It was the only coaching job he wanted. Had he gone into the competitive area of college ranks with unlimited recruiting available, it is safe to say his won-lost record would rank with Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant and the other gridiron greats.
Sure it’s one of the biggest challenges of my life, but you’ve got to live a long time to run out of challenges.