It's Tee time

Tee Martin is ready to become, as Clay Helton likes to call him, 'the next big thing in college football' as USC's new offensive coordinator.

It was time, Tee Martin said Saturday. He's ready.

"Ready to go," Tee said after his first USC practice after having been named offensive coordinator. "There's no other way to go."

It was a theme that Clay Helton continued for the fourth-year USC assistant he often calls by his full first name -- Tamaurice.

"Why go anywhere else?" Helton asked, while noting that he did interview several other candidates before promoting the 37-year-old former Tennessee quarterback who led the Vols to their lone BCS national title.

For all the critics of the USC hiring process that many consider too insular, of course that won't be a good enough answer.

Winning football games is the way to do that. Looking like you know what you're doing on offense is the way to do that.

Now that's Tee Martin's job.

"He's the next big thing in college football," Helton said of the 37-year-old Mobile, Ala. native. "I can't tell you the respect and admiration I have for the man."

But it's not going to happen all at once. Helton will continue to call plays for the bowl game as he has through the season.

"It's my last one," Clay said of the play-calling duties. "I hope it's the last time I do it."

It makes sense, Tee said, to have "no drastic changes." There will be plenty of time to do that after the bowl game when he and Helton will be finishing up first the search for a new O-line coach and then when the players return, a new quarterback.

But the good news, and three reasons for continuity, Tee said, were an O-line returning mostly intact, a running back group much the same as is the wide receiver group he'll keep coaching.

The aim, Martin said, is "to be physical up front and explosive on the perimeter," and yes, "there may be some new things" by the time spring gets here.

"But it'll still be USC football.-- run the ball, be physical and explosive," said Martin, who talks of all the coaches, from Tennessee and Kentucky he's been influenced by to the SEC defenses he went against, to his first job out West at New Mexico where he picked up on the spread.

But if there's a single moment he most falls back on, a time that says here's what Tee Martin has to bring to the table, it was the Kentucky-Tennessee game in 2011 that ended the Vols' 26-game winning streak against Kentucky.

And did so without either starting quarterback available, UK assistant Tee helped turn one of his wide receivers, Matt Roark, who hadn't played quarterback since high school, into the man who made it happen. And in just a week.

"Maybe," Tee says when you ask him if that might have been the single most special moment for his offensive wizardry. "Although I've already shared most of that here," he says.

Roark, who played for Tee a year at North Cobb High School in Georgia, literally ran the offense with 24 carries for 124 yards on a mix of speed option plays, zone reads, quarterback sweeps, draws and bootlegs, completing just six passes. Just the way Tee drew it up for him.

Not that the wide receiver coach and national Top 10 recruiter has moved off from the passing game. Succeeding Peyton Manning at Tennessee, he led the Vols to a 13-0 mark and the national title in 1998 while setting NCAA records for his 23 straight completions in a game and 24-straight in a season.

At Kentucky, two of his wide receiver products were NFL stars Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews while at USC, he was a big part of Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee and All-Americans Nelson Agholor and Juju Smith-Schuster.

"I've been vetted," Tee says, rattling off the names of the coaches who have impacted his career starting with Duke's David Cutcliffe, then at Tennessee, through Florida State's Randy Sanders. "I've been vetted by some great play-callers."

And now here he is, USC's offensive coordinator. "I'm honored," he says. "I'm ready."

And with recent movement in the coaching ranks, Tee could be only the second African-American offensive coordinator among the 65 Power Five Conference programs next season. Louisville's Garrick McGee is the other.

"Wow," Tee said.

Wow indeed.

Continuing coaching search

Clay Helton said he was "not going to rush into anything," as far as the rest of the coaching search to fill out his staff. "I wasn't hired until February," Clay said. "A lot of them are still playing ball. I hope everybody understands that."

Helton also said he that he wants two of the holdover coaches, linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator Peter Sirmon and running backs/special teams coach Johnny Nansen, to stay on board. "They are going to be wanted for other jobs . . . I want 'em here. That's been demonstrated."

Wheeler missing

The first reports started coming by text before practice had started. Had we heard what was happening with junior starting tackle Chad Wheeler? There had been a standoff, the reports from the LAPD were saying. And a call for a SWAT team to resolve a family confrontation at an off-campus apartment that resulted in Wheeler being taken into custody with reports having him shot with bean bags as he was subdued and taken for a 72-hour psychiatric hold. But no arrest. And no physical confrontation with the police, it's been reported.

We're not going to say where this goes or what it all means. "Chad is going through a personal issue," Helton said of the junior from Santa Monica who has started 34 games in his USC career. "I'm going to leave it at that . . . I really can't go into it more. It's a personal issue. I hope you respect that."

But on the field, USC made it clear Zach Banner is now the left tackle and Chuma Edoga is the right tackle for the Wisconsin game.

"I'm going to step up," Zach said of the sudden move from right tackle to left. "I'm ready." And he'll be prepared he said, just as he was in his decision last week to return to USC for a final season in 2016. "It was 50-50," Zach said. "I had to analyze it. I did the research. I felt like I'd be a better player -- not just for myself but for my team."

SATURDAY QUICK HITS: After two weeks off, USC returned for a 90-minute shorts, jerseys and helmets practice . . . Trojans will be the visitors in San Diego at the Holiday Bowl with the offense in white jerseys for practice . . . no Tre Madden after Monday arthroscopic surgery that Helton termed "very successful" to clean out his knee and get it pain free and ready for the NFL . . . He'll miss the bowl as USC went with its four underclass running backs Saturday . . . Isaac Whitney is back and the WR should be ready to go in San Diego . . . reiterating how USC was "banged-up going into the conference championship game and more banged-up coming out of it," according to Helton, he's counting the extra five practices before the Stanford game and the game itself as six postseason workouts most teams do not get . . . add those to the seven workouts for the Holiday Bowl (five at home, two in San Diego) plus a walkthrough and the game itself, that's nine more so that number gets up to 14 according to Helton's math . . . Cody Kessler said his time off for his Master's exams and papers and a sprained thumb from the Stanford game might have been good for his arm although he did get to throw three or four times in the two weeks . . . he was throwing the ball with a great deal of zip . . .

CHECK THIS OUT: For Saturday's practice report, check out SATURDAY HOLIDAY BOWL GHOST NOTES.

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