Friday, February 24, 2012

Tee Martin reopens old wounds and joins Lane Kiffin’s staff

image When former Vol QB Tee Martin left Kentucky to join Lane Kiffin’s staff at USC, he irked a Vol fan base that shunned him just a few short years ago. Martin, who was investigated by the NCAA in 2002 and 2003 for receiving impermissible benefits from a UT fan in Mobile, found himself ostracized by the program he led to the 1998 National Championship. When asked about Tennessee fans’ feelings by ESPN, Martin responded:

“Who cares?”

"I'm excited about working with Coach Kiffin. I called a lot of people before I made this decision, a lot of people who worked with him at Tennessee and other places, and not one time did I hear anything bad. Not one time."

"And so for me, that was great. Of course, I was one of the people that was upset when Coach Kiffin left UT, and that's out there, but I understand his decision, and it's similar to the decision I ended up having to make. He didn't know his dream job was going to open up. When it did, he had to take it."

The move reopens old wounds and gives Martin a chance to settle an old score.

In 2002, former Mobile Press-Register reporter and columnist Neal McCready reported that Martin allegedly received $4,500 from Mobile insurance executive and UT fan Diane Sanford. Sanford was alleged to have given the money to another former Press-Register reporter, Wayne Rowe, who then wired the funds to Martin during the 1999 season.

The NCAA enforcement staff investigated the matter in 2002 and in January 2003, closed the case. The NCAA determined that Sanford was not a booster and found no evidence that the school had knowledge of the improper payments. However, Martin’s amateur status should have been voided and any games he played in after the payments should have been vacated.

According to sources close to the investigation at the time, Tennessee did learn that Martin had accepted improper benefits and investigated the claims. Martin himself hinted that he’d received money while at UT and said he told NCAA investigators about it. Between the Georgia and Alabama games during the 1999 season, then head coach Phillip Fulmer held Martin out of practice, citing an injury. But during that same time frame, then athletic director Doug Dickey traveled to Mobile and met with Sanford at a local Cracker Barrel restaurant.

Dickey “took care of business” during that meeting and returned to Knoxville. Martin was later cleared to play and led the Vols to a 21-7 victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

In its 2003 letter to the university, the NCAA wrote that there is no need "to conduct any further inquiry into these matters at this time," meaning that if additional information surfaced they would reopen the matter.

Later that same year, McCready told WNSP Sports Drive listeners that if he’d gotten one more source to go on the record, he would have blown the case wide open and forced the NCAA to take action. That source never went on the record and McCready had to spike the story.

The case is now ancient history, but Martin still suffered the cold shoulder treatment by the school and its fans.

During the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the one-time hero of the program’s only modern era National Championship team had his sideline passes revoked and was told not to visit the campus conspicuously. The fanbase turned on him, with internet message boards and talk radio callers labeling him as a snitch, a turncoat, a liar or all of the above. Two of the message boards had multipage threads on an effort to rename Tee Martin Drive (which intersects Phillip Fulmer Way) back to its original name, South Stadium Drive.

In a 2005 followup story by the Tennessean, Martin told the paper that he was hurt by the treatment and felt he was being made a scapegoat. He claimed to have done nothing wrong during his career at UT.

In the 2011 season, Martin coached wide receivers on the Kentucky team that beat Tennessee for the first time in a generation. In 2012, he’ll coach along with the most despised man in Vol football history. He’s settling old scores and when asked about it he says: “Who cares?”

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