Believe it or not, Josh Heupel had a plan.
If Tennessee’s new defensive staff under first-year head football coach Josh Heupel looks like a Mark Richt staff of yesteryear at Georgia, that is not by accident.
Three defensive assistants — line coach Rodney Garner, outside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and secondary coach Willie Martinez — worked under Richt, who compiled a 145-51 record and won two Southeastern Conference championships and five SEC East titles during his 15 seasons in Athens from 2001-15. Garner and Martinez worked together for the first nine years of Richt’s run, which yielded league crowns in 2002 and 2005 and a No. 2 finish nationally behind LSU in 2007.
Heupel introduced his defensive staff on a Zoom call Monday, and he quickly pointed out that four of his five hires on that side of the ball arrived in Knoxville with previous SEC experience.
“It was a big part,” Heupel said. “As you assemble your 10 assistants collectively and the balance you want to have, having some ties inside this conference and knowing how it operates from the landscape of it was important for me. When you’re bringing in together a group of guys, some familiarity with who they are individually and some connections there make the transition into that meeting room easier and the trust factor is really important.
Richt certainly trusted Martinez until it almost cost him his job.