"There's a guy that played here a few years ago that I recruited that was a really good player," he said. "I would be careful how I say the name because I don't know if I'm allowed (by NCAA rules) to say the name. That's the kind of guys. If we get guys like him, Tennessee will be all right."
The unspecified player, of course, is Eric Berry. The Vols plucked him out of Fairburn, Ga., then watched him start for three years, earn All-America recognition as a sophomore and junior, join the Kansas City Chiefs as the fifth pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Asked if he plans to reach out to this player, Martinez nodded.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "Most definitely, because he obviously is a part of the recruiting process."
NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from mentioning prospects in public. That's why Martinez was purposely vague in referring to Berry, whose younger brothers, twins Evan and Elliot, are among the premier prospects in the 2014 recruiting class.
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Another irony: Martinez was on the losing end of one of the greatest games in Tennessee history. After concluding his career as a defensive back at the University of Miami, he served as a grad assistant on the 1985 Hurricane team that lost 35-7 to the underdog Vols in the 1986 Sugar Bowl game.
Yet another irony: Martinez is serving under Vol defensive coordinator John Jancek, who served as linebackers coach under him when both were assistants at Georgia (2005-08) and served as his co-coordinator in 2009.
Asked about working for a guy who previously worked for him, Martinez replied: "We're from the same tree ... the same kind of system. There's a change here or there but we basically know the same scheme."
That scheme is based on one simple premise:
"It'll always start with stopping the run," Martinez said. "If you can't stop the run it'll be tough. That's the one thing we always say: We've got to be sure we stop the run, force third-and-long situations, then win third down."
After coaching safeties at Cincinnati, he will coach cornerbacks and safeties at Tennessee. Working with defensive backs is a job he relishes.
"Obviously, it is something I played and something I've done most of my career," he said. "I like recruiting and coaching those type of players — that last line of defense."
Defensive backs have the most stressful job in football because one missed tackle or blown coverage on the back end generally results in a big-play touchdown. That makes coaching defensive backs pretty stressful, too.
"I always loved that challenge," Martinez said. "At the end of the day, when you win a game, (it's usually because) the secondary plays really well. It's probably going to come down to that."
Willie Martinez video interview