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Boomer Bio: Willie Martinez
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OU's newest assistant coach brings solid experience
Willie Martinez was a key player on perhaps the most memorable play in one of the most historic games in college football history.
But, really, he’d rather you not know that.
Martinez is Oklahoma’s new defensive backs coach, hired to replace former Sooner assistant Chris Wilson, who’s now co-coordinator at Mississippi State. Martinez is a long-respected assistant coach, most recently the defensive coordinator at Georgia.
But Martinez’ first big exposure to the game was as a defensive back at the University of Miami, where he was a starter for Howard Schnellenberger’s 1983 team that stunned Nebraska for the national championship and gave rise to not just a college football dynasty, but a self-sustained entity called The U.
All the same, Martinez, 47, wants you to look past his role in the big game. And with good reason — or, at least, good humor.
“I’m gonna say this, and you’ve got to promise not to say anything — although, everybody knows it,” Martinez deadpanned. “But you remember the game was 17-0? And they were kind of finding a way to change the momentum of the game, and they came up with the Fumblerooski, with Mr. Dean Steinkuhler? Well, it was Yours Truly who was the one that had to get run over.”
Tom Osborne’s trick play — with Steinkuhler leaving his spot at guard to snatch up the football after quarterback Turner Gill intentionally set it on the ground — caught the Hurricanes’ defense completely off guard. Except for Martinez, who tracked down the agile Steinkuhler near the goal line, but was plowed over for the touchdown that breathed new life into the Cornhuskers.
“I guess that’s what I’m known for at the University of Miami,” Martinez said. “No, I’m kidding. But I was the only one that saw the play.”
Miami hung on to win 31-30 when, after a late Nebraska touchdown, Osborne chose to go for a 2-point conversion instead of kicking a tying PAT. Gill’s pass was tipped and fell incomplete, and the Miami program, almost literally, was born.
“That was a great moment for obviously the University of Miami and actually kickstarted (the program),” Martinez said. “It was paved the way by a lot of people before that game. I think some people have seen the program ‘The U,’ what ESPN was running, but to be a part of that was really special. It was a special night. Because I think, as you know, that was considered the best offensive football team ever put together.”
Since his graduation from Miami the following year, Martinez has been a coach — most of it in charge of defensive backs. The South Florida native coached three years of high school ball in the Miami area before serving stints with Grand Valley State, Central Michigan (twice), Central Florida and Eastern Michigan. He was defensive backs coach at Georgia before taking over as defensive coordinator from 2005-09.
Martinez’ list of coaching influences reads almost like a who’s who.
“I’ve been really blessed going to back to as a child, I’ve had some tremendous mentors and coaches who I’ve looked up to and still have relationships with,” he said. “Whether it’s Ed Grossi from my youth league, or Dick Saltrick (from high school). ... I just look up them tremendously, not only as coaches but as fathers and husbands. They’ve been great role models.
"And in my college career, I had an opportunity to obviously play for Howard Schnellenberger for three years, and then I played a year for Jimmy Johnson, and that’s where I started my coaching career — and really, that’s kind of like where I take a lot of the philosophies and the things that were taught to me and how to conduct myself as a coach.”
Martinez said being graduate assistant on Johnson’s staff — which included Dave Wannstedt, Butch Davis, Tommy Tuberville, Chuck Pagano, Tony Wise, Gary Stevens — was a great way to start his coaching career.
“I was very fortunate coming off my playing days at Miami. I’m friends with all those guys. They’re people I ask for advice, and still do,” he said.
Under Mark Richt at Georgia, Martinez helped put together some of the game’s most fearsome defenses. He also routinely tapped into his vast recruiting pipeline of Florida talent.
OU coach Bob Stoops said he doesn’t expect a sudden surge of high school talent from the Sunshine State to end up in Norman because proximity is usually the strongest pull for a recruit.
But a family man like Martinez (he and his wife, Kim, have three children) knowing his way around — especially in fertile Miami-Dade and Broward counties — won’t hurt.
Neither will Martinez’ experience at Georgia.
“They have very similar concepts and run a defense very similar to what we do,” Stoops said. “. . . Many, many people that have worked with him have great things to say about him.
“I think he’ll help strengthen our staff. I’m excited about it.”
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the new 2010 Special Recruiting Issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, please call toll free 1-877-841-8877... or go to our online store and save $5)