Willie Martinez: Defensive backs
Bio: Martinez played defensive back at the University of Miami from 1981-84, winning a national title in 1983. He immediately transitioned into coaching as a graduate assistant with the Hurricanes in 1985. It was in that season that Tennessee beat a highly-favored Miami team in the Sugar Bowl for one of the more memorable wins in its history.
He journeyed through various high school and small college positions before landing as the secondary coach at Central Michigan in 1994. He left after that season for brief stints at Central Florida and Eastern Michigan before returning to the Chippewas in 1998.
He then ventured to the SEC in 2001, taking over as the secondary coach at Georgia. He was promoted to defensive coordinator there in 2005 and remained in that position until 2009. He split those duties with current UT defensive coordinator John Jancek in 2009. The Bulldogs struggled defensively that year. They finished the season 8-5 with a 45-19 loss to Tennessee as one of their defeats. Georgia coach Mark Richt made multiple changes on the defensive coaching staff, including dismissing Martinez.
He landed at Oklahoma as the secondary coach in 2010 and then got back to the SEC in 2012 in the same position for Auburn. Martinez is officially listed as the safeties coach for UT, but Jancek said the plan at this point is for him to coach the entire secondary.
What he has to work with: The secondary has some potential, but was one of the weak links on the team in 2012. A key injury and attrition played a role in that. Safety Brian Randolph, known as the quarterback of the defense, went down with a torn ACL against Florida. He should be back healthy in 2013.
Cornerback Izauea Lanier was ruled academically ineligible in the spring of 2012. There’s no official word on his return, but he’s currently listed as an inactive student in UT’s student database. Martinez will also lose cornerbacks Marsalis Teague and Prentiss Waggner along with veteran safety Rod Wilks.
Randolph will probably be paired with rising sophomore LaDarrell McNeil or rising senior Byron Moore at safety. The cornerback position is wide open. Justin Coleman, Daniel Gray, Eric Gordon and Jaron Toney are likely to head into spring as the top four cornerbacks. All have some experience, but none are proven.
The status of Deion Bonner, who was serving a late-season suspension under the former staff, is unknown at this point. Geraldo Orta, Tino Thomas and Naz Oliver are other unproven options in the secondary who will be looking to crack the rotation.
This area will be a big emphasis in recruiting this year. The Vols have already signed junior college cornerback Riyahd Jones and currently have commitments from defensive backs Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Lemond Johnson and Cameron Sutton.
What they’ve said:
. “Coach Jones and Tennessee, enough said. Tennessee is a great university, great tradition. I think the world of [Jones]. Those two things, that is real easy,” Martinez said of why he decided to come to Tennessee.
. “I am very familiar with it because I grew up in the south. I am very familiar with the Southeastern Conference. I know the tradition. It goes back to Coach [Johnny] Majors and what he did when he was here. That is the first recollection. I got first-hand notice of that was when we played them in the Sugar Bowl when I was at Miami. It wasn’t good for us. I just got a good feel for the fans, how passionate they were. It goes back.”
– Willie Martinez on what he knows about UT.
. Has coached or played in 14 bowl games with three conference titles and a national championship.
. He led one of the best defenses in the nation in 2005 while at Georgia. The Bulldogs finished eighth in scoring defense nationally that season.
Assessing the hire: Martinez makes sense for this staff. He knows the SEC and knows Jones from time they spent together as assistants at Central Michigan. He also worked with Thigpen at Auburn and Jancek at Georgia.
His time as Georgia’s defensive coordinator didn’t end particularly well. That doesn’t disqualify him from being a quality assistant coach though. He’ll have his work cut out for him rebuilding the secondary at UT, but at least he’s a veteran coach who knows the league and will feel comfortable with the staff.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS