"I'll always be a Volunteer," former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin insists.
But when the Tennessee basketball team visited Kentucky on Saturday night, Martin was "pulling for the Cats. Go, Blue. I'm at UK now."
Before Big Orange fans wince at those words, it should be noted that Kentucky now helps pay for the Martin family's clothes, food and lodging. New Wildcats coach Joker Phillips hired him away from New Mexico earlier this month to coach receivers, continuing a recent UK football philosophy of "If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em."
Martin actually will be working under his offensive coordinator at UT, Randy Sanders, who's been with Big Blue ever since former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer fired him during the 2005 season.
"It was a hire Joker left up to me," said Sanders, now UK's offensive coordinator. "Obviously, Tee and I have a history. I know he's the kind of guy who's not going to panic when there's a crucial moment in a game, because he never did as a player. I also know that if I were a parent of a player we were recruiting, I'd want my child to spend the next four years around a person like Tee."
It's approaching the 26th season since Kentucky last beat Tennessee in football. Martin was a starting quarterback in two Big Orange victories, 59-21 during UT's 1998 national championship season and 56-21 in Lexington the following November.
Sanders' past role as UK's quarterbacks coach has lessened the margin of defeat. During his four years with Big Blue, the Cats have lost to the Vols by an average of 7.8 points. In the 10 years prior to that, it was 22.6 ppg.
The 31-year-old Martin believes it's about to get closer.
"Over my years in college football I've learned the value of recruiting as both a player and a coach," said Martin, who coached high school ball in the Atlanta area -- at North Cobb and North Atlanta -- before taking the New Mexico post.
"You can't just have a great starting lineup. You've got to have quality guys coming off the bench. That was always one of our strengths at UT. I think Kentucky's right on the brink of being able to challenge for players who can build that depth. They've already begun to sign some good players from Georgia, and I think I can help them get more."
Phillips got an up-close view of Martin's recruiting skills while watching a high school game in Atlanta last fall.
"When Tee walked into the stadium, it was like every little kid, coach and media outlet knew who he was," Phillips told ESPN.com.
Said Martin on his way to a coaching clinic in Louisville on Friday: "There were a lot of SEC coaches there that night, including (former UT coaches) Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron. Joker came up to me and said, 'We're in SEC country but everybody's talking to you.' We started talking every week or so after that."
Sanders and Martin have talked two or three times a week for a couple of years, ever since Tee's professional playing career ended. When UK coach Rich Brooks retired after the Cats' Music City Bowl loss to Clemson and Phillips ascended to the head post from his previous role as offensive coordinator, Sanders didn't take long to turn to Martin.
"I'm not saying there weren't other candidates, because there were," he said. "But Joker and Tee had a comfortable relationship from the get-go. And Tee's a guy who gives us immediate name recognition with recruits, especially in the South. But he also backs up that recognition with a lot of substance."
Added Martin: "This just felt so good. No bad points about coming to Kentucky. I already know a few of the UK kids' parents from my time in Atlanta, and I've really wanted the opportunity to coach in the SEC."
It's probably not what the UT fan base wants to hear. But UT fired Sanders and Martin's never been seriously considered for a Vols coaching position.
Said Sanders: "I still love hearing 'Rocky Top.' Tennessee's my home. But this is a good place, a really good place."
A place that now fits two former Vols quarterbacks to a Tee.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...