December 21, 2012
Roots, opportunity made Martinez's choice easy
The question took longer to answer than the decision to which it pertained.
Neither, by the way, required very much time.
Willie Martinez, nearly 30 years ago and less than 10 years ago, has seen Tennessee at level competing for SEC championships.
With similar perspective, Martinez has seen Butch Jones ascend through the coaching ranks into his own championship-caliber level of program leadership.
So the opportunity to both work with Jones and, despite plenty of interest elsewhere around big-time college football, to do so at Tennessee? Martinez stopped short of calling it a no-brainer.
"Coach Jones. Coach Jones and Tennessee. Enough said," said Martinez, who has coached at Georgia, Oklahoma and Auburn within the last decade. "Tennessee is a great university, great tradition. And I think the world of Coach. Those two things. Real easy."
While the decision was an easy one for Martinez, he owns the experience to know this process will not be. With as much SEC experience as any member of Jones' staff, Martinez understands the 365-days-a-year nature of battling in the conference that next month seeks its seventh consecutive BCS title.
"I think you never really stop learning as a coach. You obviously learn a lot when you're in this league. Number one, the recruiting part of it. And every Saturday you're playing at the top level of college football," said Martinez, a key factor in the commitment earlier Friday of Riyadh Jones. "It all starts with players. You've got to get the right players to fit your system. Most games are going to come down to the wire. I Keep telling the guys this is the closest thing to the NFL. Just a great conference. The things you learn, you've got to get players. Think that's in every situation.
"But in this league, every week you're playing some type of rivalry."
Martinez will be in the midst of those rivalries moving forward with a number of friends alongside him. In addition to his connection to Jones, Martinez reunites both with the Vols' new defensive coordinator, John Jancek, and his former coaching colleague last season at Auburn, Tommy Thigpen.
Jancek said it was as easy for the Vols to add Martinez as it was for Martinez to join UT's staff.
"Coach Martinez and I have known each other for a long, long time. We have been in the business together. We have shared a lot of ideas. We have coached with each other," said Jancek, whose 2012 Cincinnati defense was among the nation's most improved. "He's someone I trust immensely. I'm glad he is here. He has a wealth of experience. I think it's a great situation for us."
It should also be a situation that helps Tennessee's players. Whiles Jones has now assumed the mantel of three different programs immediately on the heels of a season and has a proven plan in place, the staff's familiarity is something that should allow them to more easily transition. Martinez even recalls his own transition as a player from one defensive system into the next one.
Jancek is Tennessee's fifth defensive coordinator since 2008.
"It is not easy. I went through that in my career, it is one of the toughest things. I can relate to that because it happened to me when I was a player, junior to senior year," Martinez said. "The way I faced it is, 'Look, these guys coming in are good coaches. We have to step it up as players.' We have to try and instill that in them. Try to get a team that is a player-driven team and not a coach-driven team.
"We are always going to be coaching, that is what we love to do. But teaching them that and trying to get the right chemistry will be very important."
With a belief in the coaching staff assembled in Knoxville, Martinez said it's about fortifying an SEC-ready roster and creating an environment of success, on and off the field.
"You've got to get the players. Bottom line, you've got to have players, good enough players. We think that we have a good enough coaching staff," Martinez said. "But it all starts with the players, the right chemistry, the right culture. This is a tough league so a lot of these games will come down to wire. Learning how to finish. Those are the key things."
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