The relationship between Jeff Behrman and Super Bowl-bound Ben Martin goes back more than 20 years.
They first encountered each other in 2000, when Behrman was an assistant football coach at Trinity College who recruited Martin, then a senior at St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts, to play for the Bantams.
More than a decade-and-a-half later, Behrman came calling to Martin again.
Behrman had been hired as Union’s head football coach in 2016, and was looking for an offensive coordinator. Martin entered the coaching profession following his graduation from Trinity in 2005, and had spent time as an assistant at both the Division I college level at Texas A&M and in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, where he and the rest of the staff had been let go following the 2015 season.
“He expressed his interest in getting back in the college game,” Behrman said. “And, you know, the rest, I guess you could say, is history.”
Martin’s tenure at Union was relatively short, two years running the Dutchmen’s offense before moving on to become the offensive line coach at Bryant in 2018.
A year later, Martin was at his next stop, joining the staff of former Texas A&M colleague Zac Taylor with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals as an assistant offensive line coach.
Fast forward another three years, and Martin is on the precipice of NFL glory, with the Bengals set to play the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday in Inglewood, California.
“It hasn’t really started to hit me yet,” Martin said in a recent interview with The Daily Gazette. “To be honest with you, still the normal grind of a normal week for us. And I’m sure there’ll be a time — once we’re in L.A., or maybe even after the game — when I truly have the opportunity to just kind of reflect upon it and appreciate it for what it is. But, right now, it’s all laser focus, and just trying to make the day even that much more memorable.”
Martin’s three years in Cincinnati have seen the team blitz through a remarkable rebuild, as the franchise is headed to the Super Bowl just two years after posting the NFL’s worst record in 2019.
Rapid rebuilds happen to be a hallmark of Martin’s career.
As a player at Trinity, the Bantams went 4-4 during his freshman season in 2001, but Martin’s career ended with a 22-game win streak that included back-to-back undefeated seasons. At Union, Martin joined Behrman in inheriting a program that had gone 0-10 in 2015. The Dutchmen won three games in 2016, then went 7-4 in 2017 as Martin’s rushing offense went from averaging 107 yards per game in his first year to 196.8 in his second.
“It’s always great to be a part of that change,” Martin said. “It was something that I just gravitated toward, and sometimes you can make those things happen. It’s about the timing of those things and of just having a collective group of good character people that want to work hard to achieve their goals. I think that’s the case with Union’s turnaround, and obviously the Bengals as well.”
Behrman said that Martin’s experience working with offensive lines in both the NFL and collegiate ranks, and how he “put a lot of innovation into what we were looking to do” made him an ideal coordinator to help kickstart Union’s rebuild.
It’s an upward trajectory that’s continued even after Martin moved on, as Union has won at least seven games in every season since 2017.
While his time in Schenectady wasn’t long, it’s a two-year period that has left a deep imprint on his career and life.
It’s a place, he said, where he learned from Behrman the importance of always being true to yourself — “You can’t fake it at that level, and you can’t fake it at this level,” he said — and that hard work pays off.
“I’m very, very happy to have kind of helped Jeff in the way he’s turned that place around and restored it to what it once was,” Martin said. “And it really is a special place for me — both me and my wife.”
Now, Martin’s days are preoccupied with preparation for the biggest game of his coaching career, with the Bengals set to fly to Los Angeles on Tuesday in advance of meeting the Rams on Sunday in their home stadium.
As the assistant offensive line coach, Martin’s job is to help the Bengals — who won their AFC divisional round playoff game against the Tennesee Titans despite surrendering nine sacks — keep second-year quarterback Joe Burrow upright against a star-studded Los Angeles pass rush led by superstar tackle Aaron Donald, who was recruited and coached for a year by UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso during his time as an assistant at Pitt, and edge rusher Von Miller, who played at Texas A&M during Martin’s time on coach Mike Sherman’s Aggies taff.
Behrman will be rooting for his former assistant to get his hands on the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night.
“It would be pretty awesome to see, and I would be super happy for him and his family,” Behrman said.
“Even if they don’t win, I’m really happy for him and his family, and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”