LOS ANGELES — USC wide receiver coach Tee Martin had to give himself a recruiting pitch earlier this week. He had a tough decision on his hands. Should he return to a place he’s become fond of in Los Angeles, or does he return to his alma mater, Tennessee where new head coach Butch Jones offered him a position on his staff?
Martin is a folk hero in Knoxville. He did something there that even the great Peyton Manning wasn’t able to do. As Manning’s successor on Rocky Top, he led the Vols to a BCS National Championship in 1998.
There’s a Tee Martin Drive in Knoxville that’s named after him. What’s a coach to do?
It was a tough call, but ultimately he decided to remain with the Trojans.
“L.A is a special place,” Martin said. “All the reasons we tell recruits why you come here, I kind of went through that myself. It’s an amazing place. USC’s a great place. There’s so much to sell here, so much to be a part of here and I believe in the direction of this team and where we’re headed.”
It was an emotional time for Martin as he went back to Knoxville earlier this week. Seeing a lot of familiar faces made him miss home. It was a place where he envisioned himself coaching one day. In the past he reached out to Tennessee about coaching opportunities but nothing came of it. After his NFL career, he’s had coaching stops collegiately at such places as Morehouse College, New Mexico and Kentucky before joining USC.
Many thought there was no chance Martin would return to USC after being courted by his alma mater. It’s not easy to turn down your alma mater.
“It wasn’t as much as turning Tennessee down as it was keeping my commitment to USC,” Martin said. “It was certainly an honor to have that possible opportunity to possibly go back and coach at my alma mater.”
Martin says if it wasn’t Tennessee calling he would not have entertained the possibility of the move because of the commitment he made to head coach Lane Kiffin and the players about trying to move the program forward. He’s gracious for the opportunity athletic director Pat Haden and Kiffin awarded him, being allowed to speak to Jones about the position. Because it was Tennessee, Martin says it was something he had to do.
“They were just awesome throughout the whole ordeal to allow me to leave and do something like that during a number one recruiting class and contact period,” Martin said of Haden and Kiffin. “That just speaks to the kind of trust they had in me and them believing in me.
“I didn’t want to just overlook my alma mater. If it’s any other place, I don’t get on that airplane.”
Added Kiffin: “I think it speaks volumes for who Tee Martin is …We’re going to eventually lose him to be a head coach one of these days.”
USC wide receiver Robert Woods says Martin staying speaks to what type of place USC is.
“It’s crazy how you can turn down your home for being in a place like USC,” Woods said. “That just shows what power USC has. What special place it is. It’s the same with recruiting. SC is going to be SC. Players want to play, coaches want to stay.”
In his first season, Martin has grown very fond of the wide receiving group he inherited, and they’ve grown fond of him as well. Martin is active in drills and gets out and runs with the players at times during and after practice.
“I like that he has a little hip in him (and) a little swag,” said George Farmer. “At the same time, he means business. He comes out here and he pushes us to get better and better everyday. When you have that camaraderie with your coach, I feel like it’s really good.”
Martin will once again have a talented group of wide receivers to work with next season. Woods could return for his senior season. Also in the fold is Farmer and freshman Nelson Agholor, who showed some signs of his ability late in the season.
Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee will be back for his junior season.