Tee Martin remembers exactly how he felt the last time he was wearing Tennessee orange.
He also remembers the last time he was in Neyland Stadium, which didn’t exactly draw the same positive reaction from UT fans that once relentlessly cheered him on as he helped guide the Vols to the 1998 BCS National Championship.
The only similarity is that in both situations, his love for the university and its fan base never wavered.
“The last time I was here I was coming in with the Kentucky blue on, and I was on the other sideline,” Martin chuckled. “So that was a little strange. Going back as a Tennessee coach is something I have thought about for a long time, and I’m excited about doing it.”
No Kentucky blue this time.
Martin will be marching the sidelines along the banks of the Tennessee River in UT orange for the first time in two decades. While no longer the captain of the Vols’ offense, it’s as if he never left.
When Skylar Grey’s “Coming Home” was played over the loudspeaker at Thompson-Boling Arena on Jan. 19, the Mobile, Alabama native couldn’t help but bask in the moment as fans cheered, and a nostalgic video tribute played over the jumbotron.
“I get fired up. You saw how fired up I was when I walked in here, and I had to calm down a little bit,” Martin said. “It’s been 20 years since I have been in front of you guys and speaking to fans that I actually know and have a relationship with and not at some place where I didn’t come from.”
Despite Martin’s long absence from Tennessee athletics, his presence has long-been a mainstay on UT’s campus.
There’s a street named after him and nearly half of the merchandise sold in the Vol Shop has the year “1998” printed or stitched in large block letters. His national championship ring, however, has yet to make an appearance, much to the dismay of Jauan Jennings.
“Every day you cannot go by without looking at his face and see a quarterback that went perfect with a national championship,” Jennings said. “I still have not seen the championship ring, but I have not bothered him about it because we are out there working every day.”
It’s that same work ethic that helped propel the Vols to a national championship all those years ago that Martin is attempting to instill in his group of wide receivers.
With Jennings leading the way, Tennessee boasts of the deepest receiving corps in the SEC. Paired along with Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer, the trio has come a long way since Martin arrived before spring practice.
That’s a credit to the former USC offensive coordinator’s “no-nonsense” type of approach, something Jennings has fully embraced.
“He coaches us hard; he makes sure we are doing what we are supposed to do,” Jennings said. “He wants to make plays, and that is something he stresses in the room. That is what wideouts do.”
As his receivers continue to thrive under his leadership, Martin still finds himself taken aback by the fact that he is now back in his old stomping grounds.
Aside from former cornerbacks coach Terry Fair, not many Tennessee football alumni had returned to coach at their alma mater following their playing days. Martin certainly didn’t think that reality was in the cards for him either.
“I never thought I was going to come back and coach here,” Martin said. “The way it worked out and the timing of it was great. I am just as excited to get started as our fanbase is.”
With the uncertainty of the regular season looming, one fact that remains certain is that Martin is back and ready to contribute. His emotions on game day, however, are yet to be determined.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel, but I’m looking forward to it.”