Martinez gets ready for new role

ATHENS - Willie Martinez and Mark Richt built their relationship over card tables at the University of Miami. In the last four years, they've strengthened it over meeting room tables at the University of Georgia.

NCAA officials will be relieved to know that the rules of fair play are taken a lot more seriously in those Bulldog meeting rooms.

"We'd always whip them (playing cards), and they always accused us of cheating," said Richt, who often joined a friend to play Martinez and a close friend of his during the years they were teammates with the Hurricanes. "I don't know why. I guess he thought hands signals and things like that weren't good. We thought it was in the rules."

Martinez arrived in Coral Gables during Richt's junior seasons. While they weren't the best of friends, "my circle and his circle hung out a lot," Richt said.

They remained in touch when both got into coaching after college.

"I've been in communication with Will for quite some time, a lot earlier than when I was becoming in the running for some head coaching jobs," Richt said. "It wasn't like all of a sudden Will started to call."

Martinez was one of the first coaches Richt hired after he took over Georgia's program in the final days of 2000. Richt strongly considered making Martinez the defensive coordinator at the time but decided on Brian VanGorder. Martinez knew he was in the running for the top defensive job, but he also knew he was coming to Athens no matter what.

"He just said he wanted me on his staff, and I was at a point in my career where I just said, ‘OK,'" Martinez said. "That's exactly how it took place. He said, ‘You're going to coach on D. Is that all right?' and I said, ‘Yes, sir.' I wasn't in a position to ask for something, to negotiate. I was just excited that I had the opportunity."

Last week, VanGorder left, opening the door for the 41-year-old Martinez to be elevated to the defensive coordinator's job. Like VanGorder, Martinez had a resume full of smaller school jobs. Nothing on his list of experience jumped out as particularly noteworthy and Bulldog fans had no reason to get overly excited about their new staff member, but Richt had no doubts about his abilities.

"What a lot of people don't understand is you might coach at a great school with the finest athletes your whole career, and you may get away with some sloppiness as a coach," Richt said. "If you're coaching a little bit lesser athletes, you better be a heck of ball coach. You better be technique perfect. You better be able to get an edge any way you can. I think he live through some of that, too."

Before coming to Georgia, Martinez's most high-profile job probably was the two seasons he spent as a graduate assistant at Miami under Jimmy Johnson. That staff included such defensive whizs as Butch Davis, Dave Wannstedt and Dave Campo. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was a graduate assistant along with Martinez.

"I look back now," Martinez said. "It's unbelievable that I was around those guys."

Those Miami days had a strong influence on Martinez, Richt said.

"He played under it and then he coached under it," he said. "That leaves a pretty strong imprint into your way of thinking. You don't forget those things."

It was Johnson, who went on to build the Dallas Cowboys into a dynasty, who suggested to Martinez that he become a coach. Martinez spent four years at Miami but lettered only in 1983 and 1984. During his senior year, Johnson told him he'd make a good coach.

"That really kind of gave me some confidence that maybe I should look into that," Martinez said. "That's really when I started thinking about it."

Martinez also credits Richard Saltrick, his high school coach at Hollywood Hills High School, for influencing him. After playing for Saltrick in high school and Howard Schnellenberger and Johnson in college, Martinez learned his most important lesson in coaching, he said.

"When Coach Johnson came in after Howard Schnellenberger, here's a guy that's just as successful as Coach Schnellenberger, just in a different way, different styles but they're all successful," Willie Martinez said. "What it said to me was, be yourself, don't try to emulate somebody but take bits and pieces from everybody and take it with you and build a philosophy from it."

That lesson well help him in replacing VanGorder, who was credited for high level of success Georgia's defense had in the last three three seasons.

"I'm not going to look at comparing myself," he said. "I think it would drive me nuts. I don't think you can replace anybody. I'm not going to try to be anybody else. I'm going to do what I know how to do. I'm going to work hard."

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