Tennessee has reportedly hired Willie Martinez to be the cornerbacks coach, according to a report from John Brice of Football Scoop. Martinez previously worked in Tennessee’s secondary under former head coach Butch Jones.
Martinez joins Rodney Garner and Tim Banks on first-year head coach Josh Heupel’s defensive staff. Heupel hired Banks on Monday to come to Knoxville from Penn State to be his defensive coordinator. Garner was hired to be Tennessee’s defensive line coach by Heupel before Banks was hired.
Banks and Martinez will tag-team the secondary according to Brice, as Banks specializes in developing safeties. Martinez will strictly coach the corners after following Heupel from UCF to Knoxville for his second coaching stint on Rocky Top.
Martinez first joined the UCF football staff in December 2017 after Jones was fired at Tennessee. With Martinez on staff, the Knights defense allowed just 22.7 points per game and ranked sixth in the nation with 28 forced turnovers. UCF racked up 8.2 tackles for loss per game, fifth most in the nation, and had 29 sacks. Richie Grant led the way with six interceptions, third most in the nation. Second-half adjustments marked a key to the Knights’ success, as opponents scored just 8.5 points per second half, including 3.3 points per third quarter.
Martinez mentored three defensive backs to all-conference honors in 2018, including AAC first-team all-conference selections Grant and Nevelle Clarke. Grant led the Knights with 109 tackles, had six interceptions and forced three fumbles from the safety position. Clarke had 46 tackles, four tackles for loss, two interceptions and led the Knights with 13 pass breakups. Cornerback Brandon Moore also earned honorable mention all-conference accolades after adding 43 tackles, one interception and 10 pass break-ups in 2018.
In 2019 Grant (78 tackles, eight pass breakups) claimed a second straight first-team all-conference honor from the AAC, with Clarke receiving honorable mention notice. Meanwhile, nickelback Aaron Robinson (54 tackles, 10 breakups and three interceptions) won second-team all-league honors and was a Pro Football Focus honorable mention All-American.
Martinez helped push the Knights to a No. 34 total defensive ranking in 2019—59 ranking spots better than in 2017, the year before he arrived in Orlando. The UCF pass defense yardage average fell below 200 yards for the first time since 2014—as the Knights improved their NCAA ranking in that category by 83 slots over two seasons. The UCF secondary helped the Knights lead the nation in tackles for loss in 2019 (9.0 per game) while also ranking third in team pass efficiency defense and fifth in third-down conversion defense. UCF’s passing yards allowed figure in 2019 (199.5) marks the best for the Knights since 2014. The defense also ranked third in the nation in passes defended and fifth in opponents’ yards per play.
Among American Athletic Conference teams, UCF was number one in third-down defense, yards per play allowed and pass efficiency defense. The Knights were second in The American in total defense and third in both scoring defense and rushing defense.
Martinez is a veteran of more than 30 years of college football coaching, including a previous stop at UCF. He coached cornerbacks at Cincinnati in 2017. Martinez also has collegiate experience at Auburn (secondary, 2012), Oklahoma (secondary, 2010-11), Georgia (defensive coordinator/secondary, 2005-09; secondary, 2001-04), Central Michigan (assistant head coach/secondary, 2000; secondary 1998-99; secondary, 1994), Eastern Michigan (secondary, 1997); UCF (defensive coordinator/secondary; 1995-96); Grand Valley State (defensive coordinator/secondary, 1992-93), Bethune-Cookman (quarterbacks/wide receivers, 1988) and Miami (graduate assistant, 1985-86). Martinez also spent three seasons coaching high school football in Florida early in his career.
Martinez has coached or played in 20 previous bowl games, been a part of six conference championship teams and won a national championship as a student-athlete at Miami in 1983.
Over the last 17 seasons (including 2019), Martinez has mentored 19 all-conference selections, seven All-America performers and 16 NFL Draft picks. Fourteen players he coached were on NFL rosters in 2016. At Tennessee, his defensive backs averaged more than 13 interceptions per season, including the 2014 team that ranked No. 15 in the nation with 16 picks.
During his two seasons at Oklahoma, Martinez helped the Sooners to a 23-5 record and a Big 12 Conference title. During his tenure at Georgia, Martinez helped the Bulldogs to 90 victories, two Southeastern Conference titles, three division crowns, seven bowl victories and six top-10 finishes. During the 2000 season, Martinez led a Central Michigan secondary that paced the nation in pass defense.
Martinez is a 1985 graduate of Miami. He was an all-state selection and area defensive player of the year at Hollywood Hills High School.