Ruvell Martin was a top receiving target of quarterback Matt LaFleur during their three seasons together at Saginaw Valley State University from 2000 to 2002.
LaFleur continued to target Martin in the years to follow – not with his passes, but with offers to coach with him. Finally, Martin was open to it.
In May, the Green Bay Packers announced that Martin had been hired by the organization for a year-long, full-time minority coaching fellowship established by LaFleur, the Packers’ second-year head coach. Martin was the first hire for the fellowship, which was created to promote young, aspiring minority coaches. He’s working with the Packers’ offense and assisting with the receivers.
The million-dollar question: What possessed Martin, who was a successful real-estate investor and owner of a real-estate brokerage near Charlotte, N.C., to drop what he was doing and pursue an NFL coaching dream at age 37?
Martin enjoyed a seven-year NFL career, including appearing in 41 games with the Packers (2006-08) and making nine starts with 52 receptions, 749 yards and six touchdowns. The Muskegon native, 2000 Muskegon Catholic Central alumnus and 2019 Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame inductee is the only person in history to catch TD passes from LaFleur, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
“I think coaching has always been somewhere in the back of my mind. It’s always been something that I thought possibly I would enjoy, I just had never done it to know for sure,” Martin said during a recent phone interview with MLive.
“I would always hear other players or other coaches when I was finishing (his playing career) say, ‘Man, you’d be a really good coach if you ever decided to do that one day.’ But, for me, it just never really fit in my family time frame in terms of, I’ve got four kids, they’re young, they’re in school. How you get started, you understand coaching takes a ton of time away from them, and so I just kind of put it on the back burner.”
As Martin was winding up his NFL career, he grew into a mentor for younger players. He enjoyed being a positive influence in their lives and he derived joy from their successes. Martin exhibited characteristics that would seem to fit in the coaching profession.
LaFleur, a Mount Pleasant native, who served as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and Tennessee Titans in 2018, had been asking Martin for about three years to try to get involved in coach. It was never the right time, Martin said.
“He’s just kind of been there saying, ‘All right, well, you know, I’ll try again,’ or he’d say something like, ‘You know, this is the last time,’” Martin said. “But he just continued to ask and see if this was something of interest to me, and then I just think family-wise I had a conversation with my wife, conversation with my kids this last time, and we said, ‘You know what, let’s give it a try and let’s see … .’ Everybody was just kind of ready for a move and ready for something new, so I think just timing-wise it worked out well for me and my family.”
Martin and his wife, Michelle, whom he met at SVSU, have four young daughters. The Martins lived in Fort Mill, S.C., just outside of Charlotte, N.C., but the family was more than OK with heading back to Wisconsin. Friends remained in Green Bay from Martin’s playing days, so they felt welcome coming back to a place that was already quite familiar.
LaFleur was among the NFL’s youngest head coaches at age 39 in 2019, when he guided the Packers to a 13-3 regular-season record, NFC North championship and a playoff win. He jumped into coaching immediately after his collegiate playing days ended, unlike Martin, who obviously waited a bit.
“From my understanding and from most of the coaches that I know, they have all kind of gotten into coaching typically right after playing. So either right after college or right after their time in the NFL,” Martin said. “I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of coaches that pick it up later on like I have.”
Martin began his coaching duties with the Packers in mid-March. Coaches have been working from home during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Martin’s role has been to turn the offensive coordinator’s play calls into pictures, which are uploaded onto the players’ iPads to be studied. The players are quizzed to make sure they’re learning.
Martin said that a curveball has been thrown at players and coaches this offseason, in a way they’ve never to handle before, but they’re adapting and doing their best.
Martin said that his relationship with LaFleur at SVSU was businesslike. Based upon the statistics, business was good. Martin caught 120 passes from LaFleur for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Martin said his best memory with LaFleur at SVSU was the NCAA Division II playoff opener against Indiana (Pa.). The Cardinals trailed 32-7 at halftime, but they roared back for a dramatic 33-32 victory on the strength of Martin’s two second-half TD receptions and capped by LaFleur’s 7-yard scoring run with a minute and a half left. Martin finished with a team-high nine catches for 162 yards and three TDs that game.
Trust was built between LaFleur and Martin during their SVSU days. Martin said he continued to follow LaFleur’s career into the coaching realm, and that it was emotional even for Martin when LaFleur was hired as the Packers’ head coach.
Now, it’s time for Martin to chase his coaching dream. He is not viewing this fellowship with the Packers as just some flash in the pan.
“Yeah, it would be my ultimate goal (to be) able to take this and make it my new career. I understand this is the beginning that I have, (the fellowship) is the only thing that’s guaranteed for me right now, but I’m not just doing this for one year, no. I’m hoping to extend this into my next career,” said Martin, who noted that his relationship with LaFleur is what opened the door to this opportunity.
“That’s what’s allowing me to even get the balling rolling on this thing. Had circumstances been different, I would have never pursued this — I guess you could call it, this possible desire, this curiosity, that I had towards coaching. To do it with Matt is really, really cool.”