DALLAS >> Friday’s Cotton Bowl will have quite a few intriguing head-to-head battles.
You can see Sam Darnold take on JT Barrett in a matchup of two of the nation’s top quarterbacks. USC’s Ronald Jones/Stephen Carr backfield tandem will try to outduel Ohio State’s running back duo of JK Dobbins and Michael Weber. But the most interesting matchup could be found on the sidelines, as USC’s offensive coordinator Tee Martin will try to outscheme Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano in a battle of two coaches whose names were tied to the Tennessee head coaching vacancy this offseason.
Martin, a former star QB for Tennessee, spoke about the flirtation with the job with reporters on Wednesday morning.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to interview for the job, that’s the only thing that didn’t happen,” Martin said. “Whether it was fair or not, that’s debatable.”
Many Tennessee fans and former players through their support behind Martin, largely due to his ties to the university. Even though he wasn’t ultimately the choice in Knoxville, Martin said he was touched by all the support.
“The outpouring of support was great to see,” he said. “Going into our 20-year anniversary of our national championship win, it was really good to see some of my former teammates show their support. I really appreciated that. It’s always going to be a special place for me, but the timing wasn’t right so we move on.”
Martin has been an assistant at USC since 2012 and has been the school’s offensive coordinator and primary playcaller since 2016.
“I’m not in a rush to leave this place,” Martin said. “Whether it’s Tennessee or somewhere else, it has to be the right situation.”
“I feel like I have the best job in America that isn’t the head coach at USC, being the offensive coordinator at USC.”
Martin was far from the only person tied to the opening in Knoxville. But had things played out the way then-Tennessee athletic director John Currie seemingly wanted them to play out, the coaching search would have started and ended with Schiano, Ohio State’s assistant head coach and defensive coordinator since 2016.
The multi-week circus could’ve ended on Nov. 26 when Schiano appeared to be the choice for the job. The deal was so far along that paperwork was reportedly being finalized before an angry mob of fans tried to derail the deal. Those fans were eventually joined by politicians, and the derailment became a reality.
Once the Schiano hire fell through, the search lasted for almost two more weeks and included the firing of Currie — the original head of the coaching search.
Coaches like Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, NC State’s Dave Doeren and Washington State’s Mike Leach were all given looks from Currie before he was ousted.
Once former coach Phil Fulmer was brought in to replace Currie as Tennessee’s AD, Martin — as well as candidates like eventual hire Jeremy Pruitt — were eventually brought into the process in early December.
Martin said he hasn’t spoken with Schiano since everything went down with Tennessee, but said he has sympathy for what Schiano went through.
“It was a tough deal,” Martin said. “I have a lot of respect for Greg and what he’s done over his career as a football coach. When that name came up I thought ‘Wow, that’s a really good football coach.’ It would’ve been a good fit.”