A recent conversation with iconic college football coach Mack Brown helped put things in perspective for Martha Richards. Brown, who currently coaches at North Carolina but had previously coached at the University of Texas at the same time as Richards, simply told her, “Martha, it’s in our blood. You’re meant to be a coach.”
Aspen High School’s athletic director since July 2017, Richards is returning to her coaching roots to become the head women’s golf coach at the University of Denver. Her final day at AHS will be Tuesday, and she’ll hit the ground running with the Pioneers on Wednesday.
“When coaching is in your blood, it’s in your blood. This spring I really was missing coaching on a more full-time basis,” Richards told The Aspen Times on Thursday. “I was keeping my eyes open on if there was the right job open. I’m picky about where I live. I’ve always been very, very lucky to live in amazing places. So when the DU job came open, it was just something I knew I’d really want to look at.”
Before coming to Aspen — where her wife, Lindsay, grew up — Richards had been the head women’s golf coach at Vanderbilt from 2000 to 2007, where she was named national coach of the year in 2004 by Golfweek magazine, before leading the Texas women’s golf program from 2007 to 2014. She stepped away from coaching in June 2014 at age 44 citing health concerns; she survived two bouts with cancer, developing ovarian cancer when she was 25 and thyroid cancer at 33.
Aspen High School athletic director Martha Richards laughs on the sideline of an AHS football game vs. Middle Park on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, on the school’s turf field.
This seven-year hiatus from coaching, which included the past four years as the AHS athletic director, helped Richards reconnect with her family, something that was difficult as a full-time coach.
I needed to take that break to recharge, but also get back connected with my family, which has been such an awesome experience,” Richards said. “We have much stronger relationships and that has been beyond meaningful, and I couldn’t have done that if I stayed in coaching. For me, stepping away was an opportunity to do different things and also reconnect with my family, and that was really important.”
But that pull to coach was impossible to ignore in the long run. In the spring of 2019, Richards opted to take over as the head girls golf coach for the Skiers, qualifying three players to the state tournament, which was believed to be a first for the program. She stayed on as an assistant with the team last spring — the 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic — as Shannon Worth took over the head coaching role.
“The most important thing is that at the heart of it all, coaching kids is coaching kids. And it’s about connecting with them and building relationships,” Richards said. “Being in high school athletics, you are still very tied to paying attention to college athletics and helping our kids get recruited. It’s an asset that I’ve had a look at it from the other side, and I think that will be beneficial.”
The DU coaching job had a lot of draw for Richards, who grew up in Wisconsin and graduated from Stanford, where she was a standout in both basketball and golf. She was even part of the 1990 national championship team in women’s basketball.
Like Stanford and even Vanderbilt, DU has a high-academic focus and is a school not driven by football, and considering its location it checked all the boxes for Richards to get back into collegiate coaching.
“I’ve always loved coaching and I’m so glad I added this administrative role to my background, because I’ve learned a ton,” Richards said of her time at AHS. “I certainly have a tremendous, tremendous amount of respect for administration. I’ve been running 25 varsity teams, basically by myself. And I think that helps you going back into college athletics. So I think all my experiences and having coached at the high school level now too with the girls golf team, I think all those experiences are just going to help me be better in the college arena. It’s going to be fun.”
Richards said among her more notable accomplishments while at Aspen was getting the school district’s turf field replaced in 2019. The new state-of-the-art playing surface is among the best in the country and leading the project was a whole new experience for Richards. This, along with working alongside an incredibly strong coaching staff, are what she’ll remember the most.
It’s bittersweet, because I love being here,” Richards said. “At the heart of it all, high school athletics is about the kids. It has been fun to see the successes that we’ve had and the way our coaches have touched their lives. That has been really fun for me to watch. I’m certainly not taking credit for any of it. My job is to help them have the things they need to be successful.”
While Richards is moving on from AHS and the community in job title, she isn’t in spirit. As her wife’s roots are in the Roaring Fork Valley, and skiing has become too much of a favorite pastime, Richards sees them making frequent trips back to Aspen.
“I will always be cheering really hard for the Skiers,” Richards said. “Lindsay and I are only going to Denver. We are not moving across the country. I love skiing way too much to be away from this place. The offseason for college golf is kind of November, December, early January, so I should be able to get up here and ski a few times, if I-70 ever opens. We are going to be up here a lot.”
AHS Principal Sarah Strassburger confirmed Thursday the athletic director position has been posted and the school is taking applications. They’ll look to make a hire rather quickly, as the rest of the fall sports teams begin official practices on Monday, after the boys golf team started play this past week.