Though he was fired in December after nine seasons as a Georgia assistant football coach, including the last five as defensive coordinator, Willie Martinez is keeping a keen eye on what transpires in Athens.
What father wouldn't? Martinez has a daughter who works for the university and another daughter who will be a Georgia junior this school year.
"That was the longest place I had ever been," Martinez said last week. "My son is 14, so he's lived a majority of his life there. There are some great memories that we will have forever and some great friends that we will have forever.
"Both of our girls are still at Georgia, so we'll obviously be visiting them and their friends quite often, I guess."
Martinez, 47, was unemployed for two months when he was hired by Oklahoma's Bob Stoops as secondary coach. He coached Georgia's defensive backs from 2001 to '04 when Brian VanGorder was defensive coordinator and assumed the coordinator role once VanGorder left for the NFL.
Georgia won its second Southeastern Conference championship in four years in 2005 and finished No. 2 nationally in 2007, but opponents began compiling points too commonly against the Bulldogs the past two seasons. Georgia allowed 30 or more points five times in 2008, when it began the season ranked No. 1 nationally, and five times again last year.
The Bulldogs allowed 30 or more points just once in VanGorder's tenure but have been tagged for 80 in their last two trips to Tennessee and for 90 the past two years against Florida.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt fired Martinez, linebackers coach John Jancek and defensive ends coach Jon Fabris four days after the Bulldogs culminated an erratic '09 regular season with a 30-24 upset of Georgia Tech. Richt and Martinez have known each other since their playing days at Miami, where Richt lettered in 1980-82 and Martinez in '83-84.
"That was by far the toughest thing I've had to do in my professional life, if you want to call it that," Richt told the Times Free Press last month. "There have been other things that have been out of my control that happened to me or to someone I know and love, but as far as a decision that I made, it was absolutely the most gut-wrenching thing that I felt like I needed to do."
When asked about his dismissal, Martinez said, "I really don't want to get too much into that, but we've talked. Obviously he felt like he had to do something, but I don't really want to revisit that. We've talked. I'm at Oklahoma, and I'm excited to be here and am ready to move on from that chapter of my life."
Richt replaced Martinez with Todd Grantham, who spent the past 11 years in the NFL.
DOWN TO TWO
With the firings last December of Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez and defensive ends coach Jon Fabris, the only assistants who have been with Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt since 2001 are offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo and recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Rodney Garner. Here are Martinez's favorite and least favorite games in the Richt era:
* Favorite win: The 24-21 comeback victory at Auburn in 2002, when the Bulldogs forced three turnovers and held the Tigers to 99 second-half yards.
"We had to scratch and claw to stay in there," Martinez said. "There were a lot of great plays made throughout that whole game, and obviously the pass to Michael Johnson was the biggest one. The Auburn win clinched the trip to the SEC championship game that we won against Arkansas. We hadn't won an SEC championship in 20 years. The championships are what you play and coach for."
* Toughest defeat: The 45-42 home loss to Georgia Tech in 2008, when Tech's triple-option offense rushed for 409 yards and had second-half touchdown runs of 60 and 54 yards.
"All the losses are tough, but losing to Georgia Tech was the worst," Martinez said. "The way we played in the first half, which was solid, and then to come out in the second half -- that's our No. 1 rival at Georgia, and we had won every year. We wanted to keep it going, and I'm glad we were able to get them back last year."
Martinez believes Oklahoma and Stoops have provided a "great fit" for him, though the Sooners weren't sure where they would fit earlier this month in the future conference landscape. They reportedly had offers to leave the Big 12 for a Pacific-10 seeking 16 teams or for the SEC along with Texas A&M before electing to remain in a league that is now without Colorado and Nebraska.
"We didn't have any decisions in the process, so we were just kind of sitting back and seeing what unfolded," Martinez said. "What we dealt with the most was the recruiting part of it and not knowing where that would go and if schools would use that against us or if it was a positive thing. We talked to the recruits about staying patient and that we would either be in a great conference like the Big 12 or we could be in another conference but that we were wanted because we're a great program."
It hasn't taken long for Martinez to recognize similarities between his former and current jobs. Georgia and Oklahoma are tradition-rich schools in prominent leagues, and Athens and Norman are college towns located within an hour of sizable cities (Atlanta and Oklahoma City).
Martinez noticed the likeness right away in recruiting.
"Once you pick up the phone and say you're from Oklahoma, they know that and they recognize that," he said.
Oklahoma opens its 2010 season by hosting Utah State on Sept. 4. The Sooners then host Florida State on Sept. 11, when Martinez's defensive backs are sure to be tested by Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder.
The way Martinez sees it, his firing from Georgia will not erase the 90 victories, seven bowl wins, six top-10 finishes and two conference titles the Bulldogs amassed in the last nine years. Nor will it eradicate the relationships he built with players.
"Those things just don't go away, because there is so much time and effort that is put into that," he said. "I went to Sean Jones' wedding two months ago and have been invited to several weddings of former players. Those relationships are forever.
"They've had a profound effect on my life and my family's life, and it's something we will always cherish."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...