Mike Strange: Not just another road trip for Tee Martin

Mike Strange
Former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin smiles as he watches during a scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008 at Neyland Stadium.

Photo by Wade Payne

Former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin smiles as he watches during a scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008 at Neyland Stadium.

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When Kentucky's team bus pulls up to Neyland Stadium on Saturday morning, it will do so via Tee Martin Drive.

If you think this is just another road trip for Kentucky's first-year receivers coach, think again.

"The reality is starting to set in how special it's going to be to go back to Neyland Stadium,'' Martin said Tuesday.

For the first nine months on the job in Lexington, Martin was busy enough to avoid dwelling on his inevitable return to the stadium where he is a hero for helping Tennessee win a national championship in 1998.

He can't avoid it this week. The media wants to chat him up. So do his old Vol teammates. His cell phone has been blowing up and his Facebook page has been hit early and often.

It's been 11 years since Martin played his final game in a UT uniform. But when you win a ring, they never forget you.

"Everything's been positive so far,'' Martin said. "They say, 'We love you here, but not on Saturday.'

"Tennessee is a special place for me. We did some great things. The fans have always been good to me. Yet I work for Kentucky.

"I have a job to do, coaching against my alma mater, trying to get a win. That's just the facts.''

The facts are that Tennessee needs to beat Kentucky to get to 6-6 and be bowl eligible. The facts are that the Wildcats are chafing to end major college football's longest rivalry losing streak - 25 years.

Martin played on UT teams that extended the streak from 12 to 15 wins. The only streak the Vols talked about then, he said, was breaking the one Florida held on them.

In his two years as a starter, '98 and '99, Tennessee drubbed Kentucky by a combined 115-42.

"It wasn't an off-day, though,'' Martin said. "They had guys like Tim Couch, so that's what those games were about, outscoring them.''

Post-UT, Martin played in the NFL, NFL Europe and CFL. Then he got into coaching and running quarterback camps.

His first FCS job was last year at New Mexico, where he was the passing-game coordinator. Last February, Joker Phillips hired Martin to coach receivers, thus reuniting Martin with offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, his coordinator at UT in 1999.

There are those who would like to see Martin, now 32, bring his championship aura back to Knoxville. Furthermore, with back-to-back coaching changes, there have been two opportunities to make that happen.

Martin discussed the option with both Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, but it didn't happen.

He said he met with the offensive coordinator (Jim Chaney) in Nashville about joining Kiffin's staff but nothing came of it so he took the New Mexico job.

Last winter, he talked to Dooley.

"We had conversations,'' Martin said, "but I had already been offered the job at Kentucky and he was aware of that. I just welcomed him to Tennessee, said hello and lent my support.''

From afar, Martin has squirmed at UT's descent into turmoil. He's relieved to see things settling down of late under Dooley.

"His temperament, personality and attitude is what they need right now,'' he said. "The guys are responding.''

How will Martin respond when he trots to the visitor's sideline Saturday, wearing blue in a sea of familiar orange? He's not sure yet.

The emotions are bound to tug at his heartstrings. But then there are, as he said, the facts.

"Once the ball gets kicked off,'' he said, "I'm just an old football coach trying to win a ballgame.''

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 29

OrangeinCarolina2 writes:

Thanks Tee. We'll always be grateful. GO VOLS!

rabidvol1998 writes:

Welcome back Tee. Vol fans wish you nothing but the best (except for 3 1/2 hours Saturday). You represent us with class.

Weatherman writes:

Good luck to you Tee; still, I hope our luck is just a little better this week. Thanks for the good memories! GO VOLS!

FWBVol writes:

Tee actually will be on the same sideline he was when he was playing as the Vols were on the east sideline during his playing days and are now on the west sideline.

Martin is a class act that always represented Tennessee well. It's obvious that he still has a strong love for the university and wishes only the best for the Vols except when they play Kentucky.

Maybe there will be an opening on the staff in the next few years that will allow Tee to return to the Tennessee staff.

brauhuff#295403 (Inactive) writes:

I would love to see Tee Martin come home to Tennessee and coach for the Vols. Randy Sanders is a decent coach who took the fall in 2005. It is strange to look at who is no longer at Tennessee and a lot of good coaches have left in the last several years but we sure need this win bad, If we could have beaten LSU it would not bother me lose this game so bad. We need a small bowl game to build confidence for next year.

boogimn3 writes:

I love Tee for the same reason I loved last year's team with Wes Brown...It was a team, nobody was a "star," (OK, Al Wilson), and 1998 was a magical experience.
Besides beating Florida, the moments I remember best are:
-Tee throws I don't remember how many completions in a row against South Carolina to break some record I don't remember either...
-We recover the famous Stoner fumble against Arkansas. Tee goes into the huddle with 2 minutes left and the season on the line and says something like "We're gonna run it down their throats, let's go"...Four downs later we were in the end zone for the winner, with 4 straight runs, no passes...It was an erethreal experience to watch as our running back (Henry?)ripped and glided through Arkansas...
-The pass from Tee to Peerless Price in Tempe looked like about 60 yards in the air from our 20 or so, a thing of sublime beauty...I was in a sports bar in West Palm Beach, surrounded by Gators and Seminoles, and I thought I was going to either stroke out or get beat up, not sure which, but I will never forget it...

Thanks, Tee, you're a class act and I hope to see you in Big Orange again ASAP!...

gnm53108 writes:

Tee maybe wearing blue but his heart will allways be BIG ORANGE.

Welcome back Tee.

SummittsCourt writes:

It would be nice to have him on our staff at UT at some point in the future.

lomas98 writes:

in response to boogimn3:

I love Tee for the same reason I loved last year's team with Wes Brown...It was a team, nobody was a "star," (OK, Al Wilson), and 1998 was a magical experience.
Besides beating Florida, the moments I remember best are:
-Tee throws I don't remember how many completions in a row against South Carolina to break some record I don't remember either...
-We recover the famous Stoner fumble against Arkansas. Tee goes into the huddle with 2 minutes left and the season on the line and says something like "We're gonna run it down their throats, let's go"...Four downs later we were in the end zone for the winner, with 4 straight runs, no passes...It was an erethreal experience to watch as our running back (Henry?)ripped and glided through Arkansas...
-The pass from Tee to Peerless Price in Tempe looked like about 60 yards in the air from our 20 or so, a thing of sublime beauty...I was in a sports bar in West Palm Beach, surrounded by Gators and Seminoles, and I thought I was going to either stroke out or get beat up, not sure which, but I will never forget it...

Thanks, Tee, you're a class act and I hope to see you in Big Orange again ASAP!...

Disagree about no "stars" on the 98 team. That team was loaded and had talent at every position that other TN teams couldn't match. The amount of players off that team who did play or are still playing for NFL teams is amazing. That was a very special year and hopefully we can enjoy a ride like that again at some point. I will take getting out of September undefeated again which hasn't happened since 04.

RockyTop1_old writes:

He was able to one up even Peyton! A true Champion - I would love to see Tee and Peyton back in Orange in the future! What a recruiting duo that would be!! GBO skin the Cats!!

EMBuckles writes:

That's gotta be a weird feeling for Kentucky's football team when they get to Knoxville. Here they are on Tee Martin Drive and one of their coaches, whom the drive is named after, was a beloved, national championship quarterback for Tennessee whom they are about to play. Not to mention over 100,000 people dressed in orange, screaming for their defeat. There is discussion of getting rid of the national threat level color system but, for Tennessee's opponents, the threat level will always be ORANGE!

zqvol writes:

Class!

WytheVol writes:

Welcome back Tee! Only this time I hope you leave with a loss. Good luck on your coaching career. Maybe one day we'll see you back in Orange.

MusicCityVol writes:

The Streak Has to End Sometime

www.checkerboardchatter.blogspot.com

tensie2004 writes:

Thanks for helping the vols win the championship back in 1998. You will always be remembered by the vol faithful for your contributions. Hope to see you wearing an orange coaching shirt one day.

UTVOLSRROCKN writes:

in response to Euro_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Short, sweet, and TRUE!

orangeman1 writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yea 2001 was disappointing finishing top 5 and having the best record in the SEC after beating several top 25 teams. I will say that losing the SEC champ was disappointing , but as a whole it was one of the most successful years UT's had in recent history. T Martin was a great Qb and helped bring home the only National Championship in the last 60 years so for that I am grateful.

volsoutwest writes:

in response to MusicCityVol:

The Streak Has to End Sometime

www.checkerboardchatter.blogspot.com

Why?

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

We love you, Tee!! We know you'll always be a Vol...and we don't mind the wildcats knowing that!

calvolfromkingsport writes:

I was at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe AZ for Tee's last game in orange. How sweet it was for the Big Orange to win the first BCS championship ever.John Ward's last time as the voice of the Vols(for football)man oh, man!It was a thrill of my lifetime. Just a very special night.

billhilly writes:

U TEE Welcome Home !

volbald writes:

in response to boogimn3:

I love Tee for the same reason I loved last year's team with Wes Brown...It was a team, nobody was a "star," (OK, Al Wilson), and 1998 was a magical experience.
Besides beating Florida, the moments I remember best are:
-Tee throws I don't remember how many completions in a row against South Carolina to break some record I don't remember either...
-We recover the famous Stoner fumble against Arkansas. Tee goes into the huddle with 2 minutes left and the season on the line and says something like "We're gonna run it down their throats, let's go"...Four downs later we were in the end zone for the winner, with 4 straight runs, no passes...It was an erethreal experience to watch as our running back (Henry?)ripped and glided through Arkansas...
-The pass from Tee to Peerless Price in Tempe looked like about 60 yards in the air from our 20 or so, a thing of sublime beauty...I was in a sports bar in West Palm Beach, surrounded by Gators and Seminoles, and I thought I was going to either stroke out or get beat up, not sure which, but I will never forget it...

Thanks, Tee, you're a class act and I hope to see you in Big Orange again ASAP!...

29 consecutive completed passes set an NCAA record at the time.

FWBVol writes:

in response to calvolfromkingsport:

I was at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe AZ for Tee's last game in orange. How sweet it was for the Big Orange to win the first BCS championship ever.John Ward's last time as the voice of the Vols(for football)man oh, man!It was a thrill of my lifetime. Just a very special night.

Were you at both the 1999 and 2000 Fiesta Bowls? The 1999 Fiesta Bowl wasn't Tee's last game. He was a junior that year. He came back for his senior year in 1999 and UT ended up in the Fiest again.

It does get confusing sometimes keeping up with all of our bowl games. Of course that's a problem Vandy Grady will never have to worry about.

LOWCOUNTRYVOL writes:

I love me some great Tee memories! Was the man when we needed him. Thanks! GBO...'98 champs!!

BreweryVol writes:

Glad you are doing so well. Good luck in your coaching career and I hope you end up in Orange again soon.

bpvol#216873 writes:

Tee was a speaker at a meeting I attended several years ago here in Columbia, SC. When I heard he was coming, I got out the KNS sports page, front page.....talking about his 27 ? passes in a row before an incompletion.
Went up before the meeting and asked him to sign it. He was absolutely shocked and could not believe I had it and was asking him to sign. He is a totally unassuming and delightful person.
There is no question that he will be back on the UT sidelines before his career is over.
Thanks Tee for being a VOL, past, present and future.

volsgirl writes:

in response to BreweryVol:

Glad you are doing so well. Good luck in your coaching career and I hope you end up in Orange again soon.

I got the feeling he will be back soon

ClockworkOrange writes:

As Tony Soprano says "remember when...is the lowest form of conversation."

CharlotteVol writes:

in response to jrod:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Amen bro

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