By LARRY VAUGHT
Losing wide receiver coach Tee Martin Wednesday to Southern California was a surprise blow to the Kentucky football program considering Martin had only interviewed for the job Monday and seemed more than content to be at Kentucky with Joker Phillips.
In an attempt to keep Martin, Kentucky had promoted himÂ to passing game coordinator prior to the 2011 season and raised his salary from $160,000 when he arrived at UK to $205,000 last summer with a contact that ran through Dec. 31, 2014. Sources also indicate there was another raise on the table now for Martin.
But when USC gave him a chance to join a program capable of winning a national title this season, Martin could not say no to coach Lane Kiffin even though he had just helped sign several key players in UKâ€™s 2012 recruiting class. Martin had turned down overtures from Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee the last two years. He was a high school offensive coordinator in Atlanta in 2008 and quarterbacks coach at the University of New Mexico in 2009 before being hired at Kentucky by Phillips, a long-time friend.
â€œWe have a solid staff here. When you hear recruits talking about Kentucky they are not talking one guy or two guys. Every one of our coaches leaves a good impression on kids,â€ Phillips said after the season ended. â€œI would like to keep all of our guys here every year. Itâ€™s hard to do, I understand that. but we have done it for the most part here. Tee is one of those guys we would like to keep here.â€
Today Phillips issued this statement about Martin’s departure:
“Tee has done a good job for us and we appreciate the efforts and contributions that he and Toya have made to our team and to the community the last two years.Â We wish the best for Tee and his family.â€Â Â
Martin mildly criticized UK fans who had wondered about the direction of the program and Phillipsâ€™ future after UKâ€™s season-ending victory over Tennessee.
â€œThe expectations are starting to change around here. When I played, I couldnâ€™t say that it was that way. I was on the other side and fans wouldnâ€™t be unhappy (at UK with losing). Now we can hopefully continue to get good players in here and win. It takes players to turn a program around and this (beating Tennessee) is going to be good for us in recruiting,â€ Martin said.
â€œWe need everyone to be on a positive note and stick together so that we donâ€™t get beat up with that in recruiting. If people want to help, then support who you have. hen when you get somebody else, support that person. But you have what you have right now. Support it or you are hurting it. Why do we want to go out and recruit and have players asking us that they just read this or that. No. If you want to help the program, support the program. We are doing our jobs. The kids are doing their jobs. Coach Phillips is doing his job and I feel like we will get this turned the right way.â€
Martin is a dynamic recruiter, especially in his native Alabama and Georgia, and now heâ€™ll be able to expand his recruiting resume at USC.
Martin recruited three of the top prospects who signed in February â€” offensive lineman Jordan Watson and receiver DeMarcus Sweat of Georgia, and quarterback Jalen Whitlow of Alabama. The previous year he helped UK sign four receivers, including Daryl Collins, who switched from Alabama on signing day in 2011. Martin also recruited four-star defensive back Glenn Faulkner from Illinois in 2011.
However, UKâ€™s top four returning receivers had a combined 64 catches for 789 yards and nine scores last season when the Cats struggled with the passing game after the departure of receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews from the 2010 team. At USC, Martin will have Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Barkley throwing to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, who combined for 184 catches for 26 scores and 2,435 yards last year as well as a loaded freshman recruiting class.
“We tried very hard to keep Tee Martin and he got multiple raises the past year,” UK spokesman Tony Neely said.
Vaughtsviews.com reader Jim Prince, though, does pose several interesting questions about Martinâ€™s departure.
â€œDo you think he went to USC because he knows Joker has a chance to get fired, if they don’t win enough games?Â Yes, USC is a very high profile program and I wish Martin the best. He will have to be an offensive coordinator, if he wants a chance to be a head coach.Â Maybe he will get that chance at USC down the road or get the chance at another school because he is on the USC staff and has a chance to learn another offense,â€ Prince said. â€œMartin is supposed to be this hot shot recruiter, but has UK’s recruiting really been that stellar? Has he landed any four- or five-star guys?Â Maybe recruiting is getting better, but on paper, is it really?
â€œThe receivers have never looked worse at UK, as a whole, the last few seasons. You throw out Cobb, and what has anyone else done? That is just my opinion. Maybe UK will get another guy who can recruit the Louisville area or maybe they should find a guy who can recruit Florida or Texas. After all, wasn’t that what UK was paying Tee Martin for?â€
Yes, I think Phillipsâ€™ status could have influenced this move.â€ˆYes, I think his desire to continue to move up in the college coaching ranks influenced this move. Yes, he has landed four-star recruits and helped UKâ€™s recruiting. No, UKâ€™s receivers were not very good last year and really not that good in 2010 except for Cobb.
Will Martin be missed? Absolutely. Should this be the end for Phillips? No, or at least it shouldnâ€™t.
Kentucky is coming off a disappointing 5-7 campaign. Martin was a valuable recruiter, rising coaching star. But if a Southeastern Conference football program canâ€™t survive the loss of a position coach or coordinator, then it has serious problems.
A school like Kentucky needs to find assistant coaches that are so good they are wanted by other programs. The key is to find another Tee Martin waiting for a chance to make a name. Phillips made a great hire with Martin. â€ˆNow he just needs to do the same thing again.