ATHENS — The most maligned football coach in Athens cracked a joke. Or maybe it wasn’t a joke.
“I want to coach on offense,” Willie Martinez said. “Tight ends. A guy drops a pass, so what? That’s my dream job — to coach the tight ends in a passing offense. ‘Hey you: Get in! Get out! Did you block your guy?’ Ah, but my guys tell me I would just get bored.”
He should experience such boredom on defense. Martinez has coached at Georgia for eight seasons. It’s only in the past four, during his term as defensive coordinator, that he has been more like a dart board with ears. It’s the perfect storm for an assistant football coach: Work at an SEC school with a demanding and obsessed fan base; follow somebody popular (Brian VanGorder); and have, frankly, only moderate success.
Even if everybody got a little dizzy and Georgia was overrated before last season, it doesn’t fully explain what we saw from the defense. There was a lack of discipline and focus, poor tackling, far too many hot-headed moments and late hits that led to personal fouls. Martinez knows this. He also understands why he has taken some heat, and he’s not deflecting any of it.
“You know in this business, [criticism] is a part of it,” he said. “But you can’t let that affect you. You deal with it and you move on.”
Asked if he has ever believed his job was in jeopardy, Martinez smiled. “I’ve been doing this for 24 years. I coach the secondary. I feel that way every game. Whether I’ve been at Central Michigan and Boca [Raton] High, when you coach the secondary, if one guy messes up, you think, ‘It’s over. I’m done.’ “
For what it’s worth, he feels better about things this season. There have been fewer injuries (so far). Certain players have exuded more leadership. Practices have been tougher. Only one suspended player on defense. “Some years here, we’ve have had seven, eight, nine guys out,” he said.
All of which means if things don’t go well, there won’t be a lot of excuses. We’ll begin to find out in Stillwater, Okla., on Sept. 5. The ball will be in the air all day. Zac Robinson-to-Dez Bryant is an endless loop in Martinez’s head.
If nothing else, the game-planning will enable him to forget about four games in particular last season: Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia Tech. Three of those were losses, but even the win (52-38) in Baton Rouge was a defensive embarrassment (five touchdowns, 497 yards). In those four games, Georgia allowed 173 points and 22 offensive touchdowns. Martinez’s quick recap:
♦ Alabama (41-30 loss): “They did a good job jumping on us [31-0]. We couldn’t make a play. We settled down, and there was a moment where we had changed momentum, but we just couldn’t finish it.”
♦ LSU: “Poor tackling. Not to make excuses, but we had some bad weather that week and couldn’t practice the way we wanted. We just gave up too many big plays.”
♦ Florida (49-10): “I thought we had a great game plan. We just couldn’t overcome the turnovers [by the offense]. Defense is about changing momentum, and we couldn’t do that.”
♦ Tech (45-42): “We didn’t tackle well. We were there. Everybody knows what they’re going to do in that offense. If we tackle well, we win that game.”
He’ll take the blame for the poor tackling. It’s execution. It’s his job to teach, to motivate. “Everybody wants to do well,” he said. “But all you can do is concentrate on the process because all of the other things you can’t control.” And boredom isn’t part of the equation.