ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tee Martin is sounding more and more like a New Mexican every day.
Arguably the most recognizable name on the University of New Mexico football coaching staff – including head coach Mike Locksley – Martin already has passed a major cultural exam in the Duke City.
Red or green?
“I’ve been doing both,” Martin offers eagerly. “Yesterday, I went green (chile). This past weekend I went red. I take on the changes. I have to embrace the changes.”
“Bold” is an adjective Martin – UNM’s new quarterbacks coach – earned long before his chile experiment. Not only did he lead Tennessee to a national championship as a quarterback in 1998, but he did it following a certain fellow named Peyton Manning.
That’s why he laughs when he’s asked if he thinks his name recognition might mean more pressure on his current job.
“I’m used to it,” he says, referring to his understudy role to Manning with the Vols. “I’ve worn those shoes before.”
The new pair he is wearing is one as a Division I-A assistant coach.
After a four-year NFL career that included stops at Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Oakland, Martin served as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Morehouse College, a Division II school in Atlanta, in 2006.
Then, he hooked up with Nike, touring with the Nike Training Football Camps and the Elite 11 Quarterback Camps as an instructor. He stayed on the competitive side as coordinator and quarterbacks coach at two Atlanta high schools.
“I always wanted to coach,” the 30-year-old Martin says. “For me, it doesn’t matter where I’m coaching. It could be little league, high school, college.”
In fact, Martin says he talked to Raiders owner Al Davis about an opportunity there in 2007.
“JaMarcus Russell is a very close friend of mine; I worked with him,” Martin says of the former LSU quarterback who was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NFL draft. “Al offered me an opportunity to come there, but I didn’t want it to be an uncomfortable relationship between me and JaMarcus.”
Locksley, whom Martin had met at the Nike camps, told him of an opening at Illinois in 2008, but he was too busy with his camps and a television show he had in Atlanta.
Passing up that offer, Martin says, made him change his priorities so that he’d be able to take the next offer that came.
Fortunately, Locksley called again, inquiring about Martin’s services for the UNM job.
“If it wasn’t for coach Locksley giving me the call, I wouldn’t be coaching college football,” Martin says.
When Martin visited with his wife, Toya, he says he saw the Sandias, and it gave him a sense of familiarity.
“Seeing the mountains reminded me of the Smokies when I was in college at Tennessee,” he says.
As he continues to talk, he gives the impression he just might stay awhile.
“My son, Kaden, is with us,” he says of his 5-year-old (twin daughters Amari and Ayadra, 9, live in Tennessee). “He loves his new school. They’re doing a great job at his school.”
“They’re” not the only ones, apparently.
“One thing about Albuquerque, man, it has some of the best restaurants in the country,” he says. “I’m a southern boy, so to say that, hats off to the cooks and chefs of Albuquerque.”