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Timing right for Martin at USC

Trojans' new receivers coach had harsh words when Kiffin left Tennessee for L.A., but Martin now says that's all in the past.

February 25, 2012|Gary Klein
  • Then Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin loses his helmet but hangs on to the ball in a 41-0 victory over Vanderbilt.
Then Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin loses his helmet but hangs on to the… (Christopher Berkey / Associated…)

New USC receivers coach Tee Martin and the man who hired him, Lane Kiffin, laughed when asked about comments Martin made two years ago after Kiffin bolted from Tennessee to USC.

Kiffin's exit, after 14 months in Knoxville, sent Volunteers alumni and fans into an uproar.

Martin, the quarterback for Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, told the Sporting News at the time that he was "embarrassed by the timing of it all" and that Kiffin "wanted everyone to buy into what he was selling, and then he left after one year."

Kiffin said this week that he was unaware of Martin's comments until Martin brought them up during a daylong interview on campus Feb. 13.

"He said, 'I want to let you know that was kind of out of context,' " Kiffin said. "But really, I could care less about what he said back then."

Martin, 33, said it was difficult to leave his job as receivers coach and passing game coordinator at Kentucky, but the chance to work at USC under Kiffin was too attractive.

"I remember when Coach Kiffin did his first interview in Tennessee -- I was one of the first people he called once he got off the podium," Martin said. "I respected that. So when he left, I was upset about the move. It was just about the timing.

"He was doing good things If he had stayed, then my alma mater was going to be good. At the time everybody was emotional around the Tennessee family and I made emotional comments. Now we're grown men and I have an opportunity to work for him. He's my boss now and all is good."

Martin said that although he is from Southeastern Conference territory, he grew up watching former Trojans stars Rodney Peete, Keyshawn Johnson and Curtis Conway on television.

"When you grow up in the South," he said, "USC is the one school in the West you know about."

Still, he was wavering about whether to move his family to California after Kiffin offered him a job.

That was until Kiffin's wife, Layla, closed the deal by calling Martin's wife, Toya, a recording artist who had a 2001 hit titled "I Do" and was familiar with Los Angeles from recording and touring.

"Once Layla called my wife," Martin said, laughing, "it was over."

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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