Legendary Football Coach Ben Martin Passes Away
Ben Martin, the former Air Force coach known widely as the Father of Air Force Football, passed away Saturday at the Village at Skyline in Colorado Springs. He was 83 years old. A memorial service for Martin is scheduled for Saturday, July 31, at 10:30 a.m. in the Academy's Cadet Protestant Chapel.
Martin put Air Force football on the map during his 20-year (1958-77) coaching tenure. His short, controlled passing game enabled the much-smaller Falcons to compete on a national scale. Martin engineered upset victories over national powers Nebraska in 1963, UCLA in 1964, Washington in 1966, North Carolina in 1969, Stanford in 1970 and Arizona State in 1972.
The coach led the Falcons to three bowl games, including the 1959 Cotton Bowl, 1963 Gator Bowl and 1971 Sugar Bowl. The Cotton and Sugar bowl games mark the only New Year's Day bowl games Air Force has participated in. Martin's 1958 team, his first at Air Force, is still considered one of the top teams in college football history. The Falcons went 9-0-1 in the regular season before battling to a 0-0 tie with Texas Christian in the Cotton Bowl to finish 9-0-2. The undefeated team is still the only one in Academy history. That team featured the school's first consensus All-American, tackle Brock Strom. He and starting quarterback Rich Mayo went on to be inducted into the Verizon Academic All-American Hall of Fame in the 1990s. Wide receiver Ernie Jennings, a star on the 1970 team, also went on to earn consensus All-American honors and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy balloting that year.
Martin's 20-year stint is the second-longest in service academy football history and his 96-103-9 record at Air Force is the second-best in school history. Only current Falcon mentor Fisher DeBerry's 21-year tenure and 156-88-1 career record are better in each category.
"This is a sad time for Falcon football," DeBerry said. "We enjoy a national prominence because of the foundation Ben Martin built. He will always be the Father of Falcon football. He was a great inspiration to me and a great mentor. He will be greatly missed in our community. He is one of the greatest coaches ever and was such a great commentator."
Martin was a 1946 graduate of the Naval Academy where he was a three-year letterwinner in football and track (1942-44). In 1944, he earned the Thompson Trophy Cup, which is presented to the Midshipman to have done the most during the year for the promotion of athletics at the Naval Academy. After a stint of sea duty in the Navy, Martin returned to the Naval Academy as an assistant coach from 1949-54. Navy's 1954 "Team Named Desire" squad went 8-2 and defeated Mississippi, 21-0, in the Sugar Bowl. Martin left Navy following that season to become the head coach at Virginia. He coached the Cavaliers for two seasons before taking over at Air Force.
Martin authored two books on football while coaching, "Ben Martin's Flexible-T Offense" and "End Play." He also coached in several all-star games, including the East-West Shrine game and the North-South game. Following his retirement in 1977, Martin went to work for ABC Sports as a color analyst. He returned to the Academy in 1987 and spent 16 seasons as Air Force's color analyst for radio broadcast before retiring following the 2002 season.
A native of Prospect Park, Pa., Martin attended Hill Preparatory School and Princeton University before his appointment to the Naval Academy.
Martin will be buried at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., alongside his wife, Harriett, who died in 1998. He is survived by his two sons, Bud, and Ben, Jr.