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Tennessee Football: Is scrutiny more warranted for Willie Martinez or Joey Halzle?

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There are two assistant coaches that drew the most ire from Tennessee Football fans this season. One is familiar to those who have recently criticized the program. The other is new to the fray.

Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez without a doubt has the most tenuous position on the Vols’ football staff. He was the only assistant football coach that didn’t have a contract past the 2023 season, so ce can quit or the Vols can fire him with no financial repercussions. That doesn’t happen often, so it’s reasonable to assume that he or Tennessee Football doesn’t want to walk a long path together. 

Before we get to the other coach that some fans would like to see catapulted back to his home state of California, let’s paint a very clear picture of what Martinez is and what challenges he is presented with. First, Martinez is a great recruiter. Second, he has been handed a lack luster group of defensive backs that are constantly put in difficult positions because the Vols’ offense puts so much pressure on its defense.

Therefore, not every completed pass allowed is Martinez’ fault, nor the players he has trained. However, there are clearly some shortcomings in the secondary.

Martinez has been in the SEC. He’s used to criticism. Tennessee offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Joey Halzle is just taking a dip into the hot tub of second guessing. Far too many people are blaming Halzle, who just finished his first season as an offensive coordinator, for the Vols’ shortcomings on that side of the ball.

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Would former UT offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, who is now the head coach at South Florida, have done better with Joe Milton III this season? Perhaps, but head coach Josh Heupel is supposed to be the offensive guru. I’m sure Halzle could have done better with former UT quarterback Hendon Hooker.

However, the same notion applies. If you blame Tennessee’s offense for playing poorly, you’re blaming Heupel. I see no scenario in which Halzle ends up leaving Tennessee Football because of fan pressure or another opportunity, at least not anytime soon. He’s too young to know what kind of coach he is or will be.

Martinez? That’s actually more difficult. There are plenty of defensive back coaches that wouldn’t want to be on Heupel’s staff because of the way he stresses the defense. There are others from smaller schools that would jump at the opportunity. The question is what kind of recruiter would fill that role.

Martinez appears to be on a roll. He’s produced five NFL Draft picks in the past three season combined, so it could be a bit unfair to just judge him as a recruiter. Although he’s not going to be popular as long as the Vols give up big chunks of yards, such as the Missouri game last season, he may be the best option, all things considered.

As for Halzle, a breath of fresh air or a tireless recruiter may be in order one day, but Heupel has one of his men at a key post. There’s something to be said for consistency.

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