(This is the first in a two-part series on Tee Martin. The first part, how he got into coaching.)
By Jimmy Hyams
Tee Martin brought home a national championship to Tennessee in 1998.
And now, a decade after he began his college coaching career, he comes home to coach as a Vol assistant.
Martin makes his debut as UT’s receivers coach and pass game coordinator this Saturday against Georgia State at 3:30 p.m.
The long and winding road home took him to Atlanta, New Mexico, Kentucky and USC. And it wasn’t until his fourth interview at Tennessee that he became a Vol again.
Martin interviewed for a Tennessee job in 2009 when UT hired Kiffin, in 2010 when Derek Dooley was hired, and after Butch Jones’ second year in 2015. Twice he didn’t get hired. The third time he turned down Jones.
“The timing was not right,’’ Martin said. “It didn’t work out.’’
The timing is right now, Martin said, because of head coach Jeremy Pruitt and athletic director Phillip Fulmer, the coach of that 1998 national championship team.
“It’s really cool and it’s a unique situation,’’ said Martin. “I’m back at my alma mater and I have nothing but positive memories. It’s nostalgic, surreal.
“With that being said, this means more to me than any other job I’ve had.’’
It means a lot to the Vol Nation, which is thrilled to have Martin back on Rocky Top.
And it means a lot to the UT players, many whom respect Martin for the simple fact he was a national title ring.
The coaching bug bit Martin when he was a 10-year old, organizing an informal youth league in Mobile, Ala.
The community was Birdsville, where every street was named after a bird. Team names were Eagles, Ravens, Cardinals.
“I was the organizer and coach,’’ Martin said. “I knew I only wanted to play quarterback if I played football because quarterback challenged me. I don’t know if I’d like football if I played any other position than quarterback.’’
Other sports intrigued him as well. Mobile is the home of Hank Arron and his exploits rubbed off on Martin.
“Baseball was my favorite sport growing up,’’ said Martin, who was a pitcher, shortstop and centerfielder. “I played way more baseball than football.’’
He was a sprinter in track, a forward in basketball.
“Mobile, Alabama was a big hub for sports,’’ Martin said. “Whether it was basketball, football or baseball. During that time, a lot of guys were going to college and making it to the pros.’’
There was also the influence of the Senior Bowl held in Tee’s home town. Martin would sit in the lobby of the local hotel and watch guys like Jimmy Johnson and Dan Marino stroll by.
“It was like living a dream,’’ Martin said, who ran into Mean Joe Greene.
“I couldn’t speak to him,’’ he said. “I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.’’
Martin lived the dream of playing quarterback at a major college. But his pro career was short lived. He was in Philadelphia when the Eagles drafted Donovan McNabb. He was in Oakland when the Raiders acquired Rich Gannon.
In the pros, though, he engaged some bright offensive minds like Kevin Gilbride, Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Marc Trestman, Jim Harbaugh.
“Jim Harbaugh was one of my favorite quarterbacks growing up,’’ Martin said.
Martin applied the knowledge he learned from those coaches to enter the profession.
And now, he’ll apply it as a Tennessee assistant coach.