Why USC Assistant Tee Martin Was the Big Winner of National Signing Day 2014

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

Apr 5, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans receivers coach Tee Martin during a spring practice at Howard Jones Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Jan. 4, 1999, quarterback Tee Martin became the first big winner of the BCS era, leading Tennessee to a 23-16 triumph over Florida State, clinching the program's first national title since 1967.

Fast-forward 5,511 days...

On Feb. 5, 2014, receivers coach Tee Martin became the first big winner of the College Football Playoff era, leading USC to one of the strongest recruiting-cycle finishes in recent memory, clinching the program a spot atop the Pac-12 rankings.

Martin was surely the hero of national signing day 2014, and it wasn't even all that close. Other recruiters did well, and other programs came out as winners, but none to the magnitude of Martin, head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans of USC.

First, they landed Damien Mama, the top-ranked offensive guard in America.

Next, they landed 3-star defensive end Malik Dorton, who had just taken a visit up to Washington.

Then, they landed 5-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson, the best uncommitted player in the field.

Finally, they landed 5-star athlete John "JuJu" Smith, the icing on the cake of a truly awesome day.

And all four guys were recruited by Martin.

According to the 247Sports team rankings, no team that started Wednesday inside the national top 55 made a bigger jump than USC, which moved up from No. 26 to No. 11—from outside the top 25 to spitting distance of the top 10.

But USC's jump, as a whole, was nothing compared to the jump Martin made on his own; in contrast, it seemed more like a modest skip from a grade-schooler than a leap from a professional athlete.

Martin shot up 71 spots on 247Sports' recruiter rankings, finishing the cycle at No. 2 after starting the day at No. 72.

The science is admittedly (and very) flawed, but in theory, that would have been like Temple moving ahead of Florida State, ahead of Ohio State, ahead of LSU and into the second spot behind Alabama on the national team rankings.

Martin's 11 prospects signed were the most of any recruiter in the top 10, and only Georgia's Bryan McClendon finished ahead of him overall. He signed more top-40 players in the span of five hours than most recruiters sign in five cycles.

That's pretty darn good.

Martin's surge couldn't have come at a better time, either.

USC had endured the usual, predictable struggles after replacing its head coach (twice) in the thick of a recruiting cycle. Sarkisian is an excellent recruiter who knows the area well, but even that often isn't enough to keep momentum in the midst of such turnover.

Martin, a holdover from the previous staff, was able to bridge the gap between Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Sarkisian, savvy enough to keep the Trojans' top targets interested and enamored with the program.

He was the constant that convinced them to stay.

Now, USC is back where it belongs: atop the Pac-12 recruiting rankings. More importantly, it has stymied the momentum of UCLA, which has beaten USC on the field in each of the past two seasons.

This cycle was very important to the Bruins. This was when that success would translate into recruiting, the offseason where they'd finally shift the balance of power in Southern California.

Because of Martin, that didn't happen. UCLA was a finalist on many of USC's biggest "gets" during national signing day, and each time, the player chose Martin over Jim Mora Jr. or Demetrice Martin or Adrian Klemm or whomever else he spoke to from Westwood.

Much ado has been made about the new regime in Los Angeles, about whether Sark can break seven or eight wins, about whether Justin Wilcox is truly an upgrade over Clancy Pendergast.

For the most part—though the hires were met, at first, with skeptical contention—the mood about the new staff is cheery.

But on Wednesday, it was Martin, a member of the old guard, a man who whet his blade under Kiffin, who came to rescue and became the first big winner of the new college football era.

Much like he did 15 years ago.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT