Martin recalls MSUM tradition during open forum for Dragons football coaching job

Russ Martin first learned of Minnesota State Moorhead's football tradition in the 1980s when he was an assistant coach at what was then called Kearney State.

Nebraska-Kearney offensive coordinator Russ Martin
Nebraska-Kearney offensive coordinator Russ Martin speaks at an open forum Wednesday.Dave Wallis / The Forum

Russ Martin first learned of Minnesota State Moorhead's football tradition in the 1980s when he was an assistant coach at what was then called Kearney State.

"Kearney State and Moorhead (MSUM) used to have a pretty good rivalry," Martin said.

Martin made his pitch Wednesday at Alex Nemzek Hall to become the next Dragons head football coach and attempt to return the program to its former glory. Martin was the second of four finalists to interview on campus and hold an open forum.

MSUM has had just one winning season since 1999 and has posted a 2-9 mark in each of the past three seasons. In contrast, the Dragons posted a 77-28-2 record in the 1980s under legendary former head coach Ross Fortier.

"I have a great passion for helping it get back to the success it had in years past," said the 54-year-old Martin, who has 32 years of football coaching experience. "That's part of the interest here, knowing the kind of program that it had been."


Martin said his familiarity with former Dragons head coach Ralph Micheli also drew him to the job.

Martin has served as the offensive coordinator for the past six seasons at NCAA Division II Nebraska-Kearney, running a spread offense. The Lopers led the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in total offense last season, averaging 445.2 yards per game.

"The things I like about Coach Martin are his experience at a variety of different levels as a head coach, an offensive coordinator and as a defensive coordinator. In all sorts of funding situations, he had found a way to be successful," MSUM athletic director Doug Peters said.

Martin has experience at the Division I FBS level, serving as an assistant coach for Baylor in 1985 under head coach Grant Teaff. He was the head coach at NAIA Black Hills State from 1996-99.

If hired, Martin said one of his first priorities would be to establish relationships with area football coaches so he could focus on landing area recruits.

"I can make those contacts and that's the exciting thing for me," Martin said. "Sometimes it's good to come in with a new identity. ... I want to start right here. There are some good players in this area.

"I think that any program you really look at that has kind of lasting success, it is built from players where the foundation is from within that region."

MSUM offers 9½ football scholarships and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference limit is set for 27 scholarships next season. Martin said he has experience in making more with less in his current situation. Martin said UNK has the fewest scholarships in the RMAC and none of the players are on full scholarship.


"Coming into a situation that you're behind, that is not going to be an excuse for a program," Martin said. "Obviously, you want to make steps in that. You want to get to where you are competing more on an even basis."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson's blog can be found at

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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