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March 2, 2012Well over a decade ago, Tee Martin's journey to Kentucky began when the young quarterback was recruited from Williamson High School in Mobile, Ala. to Tennessee.
The man who recruited him? Pat Washington, who will replace Martin as wide receivers coach for the Wildcats. Washington, also a Mobile native and former Auburn quarterback, coached the wide receivers for 11 years at Tennessee from 1995-2005.
"I love the SEC," Washington said. "I love coaching in the SEC. I love playing in the SEC.
"But what really, really turned the table was my youngest son. I told him that Dad may not be staying at East Carolina, Dad may be going to Kentucky. He said it was a no-brainer. I asked why. He said 'Kentucky basketball is No. 1. If you get tickets, let's roll!' To get the kids on board was really important to me. They were excited about it because really they love this conference as well."
He had joined East Carolina as an assistant coach just this January, spending the three years before that as running backs coach at Southern Miss. When Martin left to become wide receivers coach at Southern Cal, Washington got a call from an old friend. UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was an assistant at Tennessee for Washington's entire stay there, and offered him Martin's position.
It wasn't easy for Washington to leave East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill. But it was harder for him to turn down an opportunity to get back into the SEC.
"As a player coming here playing or as a coach coming here, I always felt like this place was a sleeping giant," Washington said. "Basketball is well-known here at Kentucky. We all know that. But I feel like football has a place and all it takes it the right people in the right places. I think we have a chance to do that."
The group he inherits includes senior receiver La'Rod King, who led the team with 40 receptions for 598 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011. But No. 2 receiver Matt Roark has graduated, and no other wideout distinguished himself.
Washington won't get to see the receivers in action until spring practice begins on March 21, but he's seen some things he likes already.
"My first impression of them, I think we have some ability," Washington said. "We're young in a lot of areas. We have some decent experience coming back in LaRod King but for the most part, there are several guys that we redshirted last year that are going to be playing for the first time. We're sort of raw, but I think we have enough talent to be successful."
That includes players like Bookie Cobbins and Daryl Collins, who Washington expects to compete for playing time as redshirt freshmen. But there's also opportunity for the veterans. Because Washington has never coached any of them before, every player will begin with a clean slate.
Washington will recruit Alabama, which had previously been the area Martin was responsible for. He'll also recruit in Louisiana and Georgia and could have responsibilities in Texas and Florida.
Washington's teams have gone to bowl games in 16 of his last 18 years as an assistant, dating back to his arrival at Tennessee. He spent a year at Mississippi State and has also had brief stops at Kansas State, TCU and Baylor.
Nothing, he said, compares to the SEC, though.
"I love coaching in the SEC," he said. "It's everything in the world to me. To come back in this conference and coach is probably one of the most important things to me. I'm looking forward to it. I really believe Kentucky has the ability to be one of the top teams in this conference. I really believe that."