Martin’s championship background boosts Tennessee’s staff

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee assistant coach Tee Martin says he’s still getting accustomed to the fact that he’s back at his alma mater after quarterbacking the Volunteers to their most recent national title.

“It kind of hits me at different times, when I’m around the building or I’m on the phone with recruits really selling the place that I played at,” Martin said. “It’s not just a job for me. It means more to me, being that I’ve been here at this place and am coming back to have the opportunity to help get it back to what I know it as.”

Tennessee is coming off two straight losing seasons and last-place finishes in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division. Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt responded by making a series of staff changes that included adding Martin as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Martin was the quarterback of Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team. His 79-yard touchdown to Peerless Price in a title-clinching Fiesta Bowl victory over Florida State remains one of the more memorable plays in Tennessee football history.

Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC championship since that 1998 season. The Vols receivers are well aware of Martin’s background.

“He has that championship mind, so you can kind of get to see how you approach each practice and how guys like Peerless Price approached practice as a wideout,” senior receiver Tyler Byrd said. “It’s just exciting to know what to do each day and what’s expected of you.”

Tennessee returns three 400-yard receivers from last season: Marquez Callaway (37 catches, 592 yards), Josh Palmer (23-484) and Jauan Jennings (30-438). Coaches have described this receiving group as a potential team strength.

Pruitt believes Martin’s the right guy to guide them. Martin had spent the past seven years on Southern California’s staff, most recently as offensive coordinator.

“I’ve coached against him,” Pruitt said. “Just watching from afar, the offenses he’s been in charge of have been very successful. If you look at the guys that he particularly coaches — the wide receivers that he had at USC — (there were) lots of guys who were very productive. They were skilled, but they played with really good technique and played the right way.”

Martin was a semifinalist for the 2017 Frank Broyles Award given annually to college football’s top assistant coach. He was named the 247Sports national recruiter of the year in 2016.

But his star fell last year as USC went 5-7 for its first losing season since 2000.

Martin had play-calling duties stripped from him in late October. He was fired along with several other USC assistants after the season.

“It was kind of a perfect storm last year, if you will, a young team that had lost your top offensive players at every position — wide receiver, quarterback, your top tight end,” Martin said. “It was what it was. We didn’t perform the way that you need to perform at a place like that, so you get canned.

“Every coach in this business, at some point you’re going to get fired. It was a lesson for me to learn about playing for your future and doing the best that you can do at the job you’re currently at.”

Martin’s new colleagues still have plenty of faith in him.

“Tee’s a bright guy, been around a lot of football, brings a lot of good input in, fantastic recruiter, a fun-loving guy,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “I’m tickled to death he’s here.”

Martin also has earned the respect of the receivers who know he’s won a title here. Jennings said earlier this spring he’s been meaning to ask Martin to show the team his championship ring.

“I’ll find the right time to do that,” Martin said. “I’m really looking forward to that moment. Hopefully it’s training camp, maybe at some point during the season. That’s kind of one of those feel things. Once this group jells together, we’ll get to things like that.”

NOTES: Pruitt said reserve running back Carlin Fils-aime had a medical procedure on his leg that will keep him out until July. … Pruitt said he would divided the teams in Saturday’s Orange & White Game by having one roster include the projected first-team offense and second-team defense while the other has the likely first-team defense and second-team offense.