Frank Martin's game has a bounce

That Frank Martin glare? You know the look.

Those loony eyes. The crumpled lips. A cage fighter's stance. Your-mom-just-found-the-report-card-you-tried-to-hide eyebrows.

That's the Martin, coach of a 5-3 South Carolina team that has won three in a row, most expect to come forward as the intensity of any contest percolates. At any moment, it seems, South Carolina's leader will erupt and spit fire from his mouth that will singe the fingertips and eyelashes of anyone nearby.

Here's what you might not know about Martin and that notorious -- or misunderstood, per his players and others who know him -- disposition: When he was a bouncer in Miami, it probably saved his life.

"We're talking back in the late '80s, early '90s and Miami was in a very hot base, as far as crime and things of that sort, back to the 'Cocaine Cowboys' days," said Tony Regueira, Martin's longtime friend who used to work with him. "Basically, when there was an issue, we'd escort people out. There were scary moments all the time."

In the 1980s, Miami was widely viewed as a growing metropolis flooded by drugs, organized crime and violence. A 1987 New York Times Magazine piece bore the headline "Can Miami Save Itself?" and referred to the city as a "juvenile delinquent."

But Martin needed cash, and fast. His family had far more love than money. Martin was pursuing a degree in physical education at Florida International while coaching boys basketball at Miami Senior High School.

Bouncing at a club called Stefano's -- he was a bouncer at other places in Miami, too -- allowed him to make money at night and maintain his studies and coaching pursuits.

"When I chose to follow the path of bouncer, the reason for it, No. 1, it was good money," Martin said. "No. 2, it fit my schedule. I was going to school during the day, coaching basketball late afternoon and then [I'd] go bounce at night. You slept in between wherever you can."

Stefano's was not some suburban spot with folks dressed in their Sunday best. There were gangsters at Stefano's, men steeped in a lifestyle that demanded fisticuffs over conversation. Its former owner (the club is closed now) is Stefano Brandino, who was sent to prison in the late 1990s following a federal investigation for a money laundering scheme that also involved drugs. "There were times when people would want to wait for us after the club with knives and guns and things like that," said Regueira, who is now a law-enforcement officer in Miami. "Luckily, those things never transpired into something more serious."

Sometimes, Regueira would end up in a spot in the club surrounded by three or four guys, some of whom were armed, and Martin would arrive and remove the potential for drama. He had the posture of a man who was ready to react physically if necessary, but his words were the only tools he needed, Regueira recalled.

"If you handle your job with respect, you realize that even people that are in an uncomfortable frame of mind appreciate the fact that you respect them," said Martin, who added that he was always cautious.

But Martin couldn't talk everyone down. When things got ugly -- not always intentionally -- his whole attitude would change and he had to be tough.

One time, Martin was working in the back of Stefano's on 25-cent beer night when he heard the other bouncers asking for help near the front door to break up a fight. Martin, who was wearing a white T-shirt, ran toward the skirmish but slipped on the cheap beer that covered the floor and slid underneath a pool table.

As he rose, he smacked his head on the table. When he finally reached the front door, he looked like he'd been in a battle royale -- although the bout with a pool table was the one he'd lost -- which escalated everything because his colleagues blamed the guys they'd detained.

"They thought that those guys had tried to take me down," Martin said. "It created a brand new scene in there."

Those moments were rare, though, and Regueira credits Martin with helping their crew avoid the chaos that could have ensued.

"With knives and guns, you had to have a cool head, and Frank had that cool head as well, to calm situations down," he said.

Now, back to the stare.

It has a purpose, the same one that it served on those late nights in Miami: show the world that you're serious and in control of the situation.

On the sideline, those demonstrations can lead to technical fouls, suspensions such as the one he received last season for ripping a player or misperceptions about how he's viewed by the young men who play for him.

In the late 1980s in Miami's hottest clubs, it meant the difference between stopping a brawl before it began and finishing the evening in a hospital, or worse.

"You're in Miami and you're bouncing," Martin said, "there's always that moment where you're worried about somebody taking it a step further than it needs to be, which is outside the club, not inside the club."

Martin's players don't judge him for those occasional lashings.

They see the coach who cracks jokes in practice, the man who mocks players with a strut they can't fully describe or stop laughing at. They see a leader who seeks excellence. And loves Pitbull.

"Some people might say, 'Damn, he's crazy. Coach Martin snapped,' but off the court, he's somebody that you don't have to change yourself for," said Tyrone Johnson, a senior guard. "You can be you around him. He jokes, he laughs. He's one of the nicest dudes off the court. But when he's on the court, it's business. It's just like a job."

In comparison to Martin's days as a bouncer, South Carolina has been easy.

The Gamecocks haven't reached the NCAA tournament since 2004 and haven't won there since 1973. But the program should continue to rise with the No. 16 recruiting class, per RecruitingNation, arriving next season. It also helps that South Carolina is off to a solid start this season, and the SEC isn't exactly a gauntlet.

If things go in the other direction, Martin might encounter some hostility.

No guns and knives, though.

"[My experience as a bouncer] makes me understand people better," Martin said. "When you have any job, you're not scared to work. That means you're not intimidated by the job you have. I guess there are times and I'm preparing a team and I know Jim Boeheim's on the other end or John Calipari or Billy Donovan or Bill Self. I don't feel intimidated with the job I have. I can see where if maybe I hadn't been in a difficult moment I could sit back and say, 'Holy cow. ... Am I gonna be able to do my job well enough against a Hall of Famer?'"