Former UK player returns as Kent State head coach

Kent State head coach Doug Martin isn’t shy about admitting it. In fact, he almost boasts it.

When the fourth-year head coach enters Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, he will be returning to the place he graduated from, the place he grew up loving and the place that will always have his support.

“I had one of the greatest college experiences ever,” Martin said. “I loved the University of Kentucky and still do. It was a great place to go to school. Obviously my playing career, with injuries and things like that — I was probably a little over my head athletically, but it was a great place to play.”

Martin, a 1985 graduate of UK, returns to Lexington on Saturday — the first time he will enter Commonwealth Stadium as a head coach. The 44-year-old was a four-year letterman from 1981-84 as a reserve quarterback under former coach Jerry Claiborne.

During his junior and senior seasons, Martin was a part of UK teams that played in the 1983 and 1984 Hall of Fame Bowls. Injuries limited Martin’s time on the field, but Claiborne let the Oak Ridge, Tenn., native stay on the team as the holder on field goal attempts and as a student-coach.

After graduating, Martin realized his career calling card when he stayed on the staff for two years as a graduate assistant.

“Claiborne sat me down one day and gave me a talk about what a coach is and what it should be,” Martin said. “He really kind of led me down that path. I really knew at that time that this is what I wanted to do.”

Martin went on to coach as an assistant at East Tennessee State for four seasons and then moved on to East Carolina where he coached for 11 seasons. Known as a quarterback guru, Martin served as the offensive coordinator in the last seven seasons at ECU, grooming the likes of David Garrard, the Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback, before moving on to Kent State.

Throughout his tenure at other schools, Martin picked up different philosophies from a wealth of coaches, but to this day, he still models his philosophy off of Claiborne.

“I think I’m very firm with them but very fair; very demanding of them but not overbearing,” Martin said. “I think he had a great sense of how to motivate you as a player. As a person you knew he was very honest with you. He didn’t blow smoke up your skirt and tell you how great you were when you weren’t, and I’ve tried to be the same way.”

For some fans in attendance, seeing Martin and UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips on the same field might seem like a flashback to the 1980s. Martin and Phillips were both a part of the same recruiting class and were teammates for four years.

“It’ll be different,” Phillips said of seeing Martin on the opposing sideline. “His wife (Vicki Martin) is a Henry Clay grad, my wife is a Henry Clay grad; so it’ll definitely be different.”

Martin’s rise in the coaching ranks comes as no surprise to Phillips who could see Martin’s coaching ability early on.

“He was always a smart player,” Phillips said. “Being a quarterback as long as he was … you always knew he was going to be a coach because he was a smart football player.”

No matter what happens on Saturday, Martin’s heart will always lie with UK, he said.

“We have a lot of roots there, a lot of friends still there,” Martin said. “The first thing I always do is pick up the paper and see how the Cats did.”