KNOXVILLE – Going up against an old boss or employer is always a touch awkward in the world of sports, especially after being fired.
That’s what Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek and secondary coach Willie Martinez are faced with this week with Georgia coming to town.
Martinez coached the secondary and was eventually promoted to defensive coordinator during his Georgia tenure (2001-09). Jancek, who came on staff in 2005, worked with the linebackers and joined Martinez as a co-defensive coordinator in 2009.
It was that 2009 season that led to their eventual dismissal. The Bulldogs gave up 26.4 points per game and were 90th nationally in pass-efficiency defense. Head coach Mark Richt decided to fire a majority of his defensive staff after that effort.
Despite that, Martinez said Saturday’s matchup isn’t any different for him.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said after downplaying the storyline. “Just having another game and obviously it’s a heck of a challenge for us to defend that offense. That’s been the main focus for us. … You just go about your business of trying to prepare the kids and you recognize the importance of the game and the tradition of it, but at the end of the day you’re really focused on preparation.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who hired both in part due to their SEC experience, also downplayed the significance of the Georgia connection for both of his assistants.
“I know they spent a number of years at the University of Georgia, but they're at Tennessee and every game is critical for us and you don't treat any game different than the next one,” Jones said. “It's the next one that we're all trying to win. You look at your opponent and you don't get any personal feeling aside from anything and I know they're excited to be here and be a part of our football program."
“We all know we’re professionals, we have a job to do, we’re competing,” added Richt on the SEC teleconference Wednesday. “I don’t think much about it during the week. I doubt he thinks about it much during the week. He’s studying film, we’re studying film. We’re getting a plan, they’re getting a plan. They’re getting their guys ready to go emotionally, we’re doing the same thing.”
Jancek, who joined Jones’ staff at Cincinnati the year after being fired at Georgia, hasn’t faced the Bulldogs since his departure. He, like Martinez, said it’s not awkward for him, but he did acknowledge the memories and the connections he made while in Athens:
“I’ve got friends at the school and in Athens. That’s a part of my life that I’ll always remember and be thankful for, but it’s competition – it’s a ball game.”
• Out: WR Devrin Young, TE Alex Ellis, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, TE Justin Meredith, TE Joseph Ayres, WR Ryan Jenkins, QB Nathan Peterman, RB Marlin Lane
• Limited: RB Rajion Neal, TE Brendan Downs, TE A.J. Branisel, WR Drae Bowles, S Brian Randolph
Lane was not in attendance, at least during the open portion of practice, on Wednesday. He was there, but only riding a stationary bike on Tuesday. His status remains in question for Saturday. Neal, meanwhile, was at practice, but was still somewhat limited and wore a green, non-contact jersey. Asked about his injury on Tuesday, Neal only said that he was “tired.”
• Butch Jones hasn’t given any official indication, but it doesn’t look like linebacker Curt Maggitt is anywhere closer to playing this week. He continues to be a participant at practice, but he’s been working with the scout team and doesn’t appear to be part of UT’s plans in the near future.
• Linebacker Greg King got a little bit of work on the offensive side of the ball at fullback on Wednesday. Linebacker Joe Stocstill was still working with the first team offense in their extremely limited fullback package and King was working with the second unit. The Vols don’t have a true fullback on their roster, but use one from time to time in short-yardage situations.
• Always looking to motivate his players, coach Butch Jones had some good-natured comments for linebacker A.J. Johnson. Jones called Johnson a “wannabe Bulldog.” Johnson is from the state of Georgia, but was not offered a scholarship by the Bulldogs coming out of high school.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga