Top of His Game

Matt Martin has had an exciting first year at USC Upstate. Since starting his job as the new vice chancellor and director of intercollegiate athletics on Aug. 15, he’s cheered on the Spartans in their first-ever WNIT appearance, their first appearance in the Big South women’s soccer tournament finals, and their second Big South softball championship. Here he shares his game-day ritual and inability to master a favorite outdoor activity.

Where were you born?
Bellingham, Washington

What did you dream of being when you were a child?
A professional athlete – it was a short-lived dream!

What was your first job?
I grew up on “the Palouse,” a region in Washington state known for its wheat farms. Beginning in middle school, farmers would hire my friends and me to do all sorts of odd jobs. It started with walking their fields to pull rye and weeds by hand. Those were some hot, miserable days! As we got older, we were promoted to drive wheat trucks and eventually operate the combines.

What’s a talent you wish you had?
Flyfishing is one of the few things I really enjoy that I’m really bad at. I have friends who are really into it and catch a lot of fish – and they’ve tried to teach me, but my mechanics are still awful. Usually, you eventually improve at the things you really enjoy, but I haven’t figured it out yet!

What's your favorite sport?
That’s a tough one. Of course I love all our sports here at Upstate. But, I had the opportunity to play football in college, and it propelled me into this career. So, it’s probably football.

What’s your favorite way to unwind?
I love to be in the outdoors, whether that be hunting, fishing, camping or even a simple hike. With the crazy schedule of working in athletics, plus with two young kids, it’s not as frequent as it used to be, but I try to take any chance I can to get out into the woods.

Do you have any pets?
No pets currently, but I’m currently lobbying my wife to get a dog. We’re getting closer!

What three albums would you want with you on a desert island?
This is difficult to narrow down to just three. I have an eclectic taste in music. I don’t consider myself a Parrot Head, and a live album seems like cheating a bit, but if you’re going to be on a deserted island, you might as well have some beach music!

  • Lucero – 1372 Overton Park
  • Turnpike Troubadours – Diamonds & Gasoline
  • Jimmy Buffett – Live at Fenway Park

What’s your favorite vacation place?
Banff, Canada, is my all-time favorite place to vacation. It’s absolutely beautiful and offers all sorts of outdoor activities.

What or who inspires you?
The coaches who I had throughout my life are a huge part of why I continued into athletic administration and higher education. I was fortunate to have coaches who held me accountable, challenged me to be a leader, and pushed me to become the best version of myself both on and off the field. Their leadership made a massive impact on my life and is the reason I’m in the position I am today.

Favorite TV or streaming show?
The Office. I started watching when it first aired in 2005 and still find myself streaming it today.

What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
Right out of grad school, I packed up my car with all my possessions and drove from Washington state to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for my first full-time job, which was with a collegiate licensing firm. I didn’t know anyone in North Carolina at the time and moved into an apartment sight unseen. In hindsight, that was pretty crazy … but it worked out!

What five items (not counting pets) in your possession have special significance for you?
I do not consider myself sentimental when it comes to material items. I am fairly simple …but I’d go with this:

  1. My wedding ring
  2. We have a framed photo of our kids that perfectly encapsulates their separate, unique personalities. That is a special one to me.
  3. Championship rings – I have been fortunate to earn a few, and every one of them is special in their own way.
  4. My first guitar – I am not a good musician. But, I taught myself how to play when I was young, and it was the first hobby that I had to really work at and not give up on.
  5. My first shotgun, which was given to me by my Uncle Ron when I was young – who taught me most everything I know about hunting and the outdoors.

What's something on your bucket list?
Visiting all 50 states. I have seven left to go!

What's your proudest achievement so far?
My daughters, Chandler (3) and Camden (2). They amaze me every day, and I am incredibly lucky to get to be their dad.

What’s your guilty pleasure (food, music, TV or movie)?
Definitely food. I love trying new places and new foods.

Do you prefer the mountains or the beach?
The mountains, and it’s not particularly close. My wife loves the beach. I will go to the beach because she loves it. But if it were up to me (and it rarely is), I’d be in the mountains!

If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?
I’m still as competitive as I’ve ever been, so I absolutely hate losing. That sounds like a good thing – but part of being an athletic director is understanding that sometimes our teams will lose, and that is OK. If you see me at games, I tend to move around a lot because I get anxious and cannot sit still. I’m superstitious enough to think that MAYBE moving around might somehow switch up the mojo in the air and have some sort of positive effect on our teams. I’m very aware of how dumb that sounds! So, while I do not ever want to be “OK” with losing, I would like to be able to accept it easier.

What’s your favorite thing about USC Upstate?
The people. We’ve felt incredibly welcomed here and love how friendly everyone on campus is. As I often tell our recruits and their families, Upstate is big enough to matter, but small enough to care. There is so much opportunity and momentum here at Upstate right now, yet you cannot walk across campus and not see someone you know. It is a unique experience that I feel incredibly lucky to be part of.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I’m color blind. Technically, I am red-green color blind, although reds and greens are not that difficult for me to decipher. Blues and purples, on the other hand, look identical to me. Also, lime green and yellow look the same as well. So, if you ever see me and my clothes don’t match… that’s probably why!