Thursday, February 23, 2012
One-on-one with Tee Martin
By Pedro Moura
USC's new receivers coach Tee Martin brings some interesting perspective with him to Los Angeles, having been the quarterback of a national-championship team at Tennessee in 1998 and, since, an assistant coach at New Mexico and Kentucky. His recruiting expertise is well-publicized, but what else can the 33-year-old assistant bring to the Trojans? Here's a wide-reaching with interview, conducted by ESPNLosAngeles.com after a USC conditioning session this week.
Q: How is everything going? You were hired only eight days ago now. Does it feel like things have been moving in warp-speed?
A: It's been going fast, very fast, from being offered the jump to getting out here and working, getting everything taken care of to where I can get on the field and coach and recruit. It has been fast, but I've been blessed to find a place to live and my family will be coming out in a couple weeks.
Q: You've been quoted as saying that you said no to Lane Kiffin's overtures at first. Why?
A: I just didn't know that much about what I was going into and what makes Lane a great recruiter, which is making you comfortable about the situation. That's what happened with me -- I had a lot of questions. I knew about USC, knew about all the traditions and the football side of it, but I didn't know about the organization. Pat Haden was great, the rest of the coaching staff, Layla Kiffin talking to my wife. ... It was big to make my family feel comfortable moving out.
Q: How long did it take you to say no at first?
A: That's just me being loyal to where I was at. I'll be the same way for Coach Kiffin. It's tough. Kentucky did a great job, treated me and my family well. We were doing great things in the community, my son was playing little-league basketball. It's hard to leave. But Coach Kiffin made me believe in where we're headed as a program here at 'SC.
Q: When you're considering a lateral move, how much of the decision is based on whether or not the new school currently has a lot of talent at your particular position?
A: It's a blessing to have talent there, but part of the decision of making a lateral move is: Are you going to a school where you can recruit the talent that you need? I feel like 'SC can and has done that in the past, having a tradition of great receivers and great players. Coming into that situation, even if we didn't have what we are blessed to have right now, I feel like I could've got in here and got those type of guys in trying to take this program to where we want to take it. That was part of it, the tradition of USC. How do you deny that?
Q: You talk about extending the tradition. To me, that means recruiting, and you've picked up praise for your recruiting skills early on in your career. How big of a role did that play in Lane and USC's coming after you and how much do you think they expect from you there?
A: I'll be doing the Southeast. Coach Kiffin wanted me to be in areas where I was comfortable and I had relationships. And that's part of being able to recruit well -- your relationships that you build with high-school coaches in the communities where the kids come from. The Southeast is somewhere where I have a lot of those good relationships. Coach (Ed) Orgeron has had a lot of success bringing kids here from Florida, too.
Q: You'd probably be able to answer this question well. What's a better time to leave a position-coaching job: right before signing day or right after? There's clearly negatives to both.
A: I don't think there is a good time, because you have feelings for the players you coached and the ones you just signed. Both times I've taken jobs have been right after signing day. I knew one time (at New Mexico) that I had an opportunity where I possibly could leave, so that time I was able to tell parents and kids that I probably wouldn't be there but it was still the best university for them to go to. You go to school for the university, not the coach, anyway. But this time, this came out of the clouds after signing day. I had no clue. My wife and I were settled, we were good, and then I got a text on Sunday after church. I had to think about it.
Q: How'd you inform the recruits you just signed at UK that you were leaving? Any negative responses?
A: I called them. For the most part, I had relationships with them to where I told them the truth and I was blatantly honest with them throughout the recruiting process. They understood that this was something that was best for my family and my career. And I was honest with them. It wasn't a deal where I tried to let it bowl over for a week and then do it. Immediately when I knew I was taking it, I called those guys.
Q: You were a college quarterback. Did you enter into college coaching thinking you were going to be a quarterbacks coach?
A: I came into this profession wanting to coach any position on offense. I feel like if you ever want to be a coordinator or a head coach -- and my aspiration is to go as high as I can go -- you have to know all the answers to all the problems. I've had the opportunity to coach every position except running back and offensive line, so it's a blessing for me. If I haven't coached wide receivers ever, I wouldn't understand the problems that exist at the receiver position. If you're in the quarterbacks bubble, then you may be asking people to do something that's not possible. Until you get in those shoes, you don't know. And it's been great for my development as a coach. When you go back to your quarterback, you know how the receivers think.
Q: With a guy like Robert Woods, is it going to be at all tough for you to teach him things, considering all he knows? Do you think you'll be able to impart a lot of knowledge on him?
A: No question. He's great. But at the same time, he can get better. And he understands that. He's the type of kid that wants to be challenged, wants to be worked hard and wants to be better. For me, it's been a blessing to be around great players, because pretty much all of my college and pro career I've been around first-round picks, Pro Bowlers, the whole deal -- whether I was on the team with them or coaching them, like Randall Cobb, a second-round draft pick last year of the Green Bay Packers, who I coached at Kentucky. I see areas where we could get better. The only way that you can keep a guy like that going is if you keep challenging him and keep it competitive.
Q: Have you gotten bad feedback from Tennessee fans since taking this job? People there really dislike your new boss.
A: Well, you know, you have some. But who cares? For me, it was a decision I felt was best for my career. The timing of it, whatever. I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Kiffin about it and I felt comfortable enough to want to bring my wife and kids out here that I care dearly about, so he can't be a monster if I feel comfortable enough to bring my family out here. I'm excited about working with Coach Kiffin. I called a lot of people before I made this decision, a lot of people who worked with him at Tennessee and other places, and not one time did I hear anything bad. Not one time. And so for me, that was great. Of course, I was one of the people that was upset when Coach Kiffin left UT, and that's out there, but I understand his decision, and it's similar to the decision I ended up having to make. He didn't know his dream job was going to open up. When it did, he had to take it.