By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Craig Martin is leaving people he considered family to return home.
After five years leading the Ellison baseball team, bookended by a pair of playoff appearances, Martin has accepted the head coaching position at Temple High School, his alma mater.
"It's kind of a bittersweet deal because I certainly hate to leave (Ellison) and leave 'my guys' behind - I feel like they're all my boys," Martin said via phone Monday. "But it's kind of a homecoming and I certainly look forward to getting back to a place I spent 18 years of my life that was very special to me."
Martin, who had a 65-85 record at Ellison, replaces Matt Pullen, who resigned June 2 after one season in which the Wildcats went 10-17-2 and missed the playoffs.
Martin's hiring brings a sense of continuity to the program that was present under longtime coach Larry Haynes, who retired last year after 23 years at the helm.
"It's a unique situation because very few times in coaching do you have the opportunity to go back to your alma mater," Martin said. "... I wasn't really expecting it, but when the job came open, I jumped at the opportunity."
Martin played under Haynes for four years (1994-97) before becoming the career total base leader at the University of Texas-Arlington (1998-2001). Martin also spent two seasons in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system as a second baseman before becoming an assistant under former Ellison skipper Richard Tucker in 2002.
"It's been a great experience and I've had a lot of good times, made a lot of good memories and there have been a lot of good kids that I've coached," Martin said.
The lateral move within District 12-5A will pose both a challenge and an advantage for Martin.
"It's going to be a little bit of a rebuild (process at Temple) and it's a challenge, but I'm looking forward to that," Martin said. "But it's also a benefit that I am familiar with the district, I know what I'm up against."
Fueled by senior pitchers Ryan Bates and Cal Somerville, along with a talented junior class, the Eagles (19-12-1, 8-6 in District 12-5A) made it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 - Martin's first year - after back-to-back single-digit win seasons. Ellison was swept by Lake Highlands in their area-round series after putting together a surprising sweep of state-ranked Mesquite in the first round.
"I'm obviously leaving a good team behind," Martin said of next year's Ellison squad. "The one thing about that is we had a successful year, they are very experienced, and I think those guys are going to be fine."
Whomever replaces Martin will return a senior-laden group that includes three of last year's top hitters, including catcher Justin Dingman - who batted .411 with team-high 46 hits, 43 RBIs and five home runs - center fielder K.J. Stark - who led the team with a .423 average, .551 on-base percentage and 38 runs - and shortstop Greg Greene - who was second on the team with 35 RBIs out of the No. 5 hole.
"Coach Martin's an excellent baseball coach, he did a great job for us in baseball and in the classroom," Ellison athletic coordinator Buddy McBryde said. "It'll be a loss, but that's all part of the coaching business. ... I'm happy for him and his family."
Killeen Independent School District athletic director Tom Rogers said the job will likely be posted immediately and that they will look for candidates within the school system as well as from outside, so long as they fit an open teaching position at Ellison.
"I think it'd be one of our better programs as far as what they've done as far as history and going to the playoffs, having good people to continue that run," Rogers said. "... I think Ellison has a lot of momentum right now, I think coach Martin definitely contributed to that, but I think someone could come in there and continue what he got started."
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7566.
Craig Martin at Ellison
Year Overall District
2006 17-12 8-2
2007 17-14 6-6
2008 5-22-2 1-9
2009 7-19-1 5-9
2010 19-13-1 8-6
Total 65-80-4 28-38
*According to KDH archives