Instead, a knee injury suffered while he started four games during UK’s 0-10-1 season in 1982 stymied Martin’s playing aspirations.
Yet, in two ways, the New Mexico State head coach’s time as a UK student changed his life.
As a UK freshman, Martin saw a girl’s picture in a fellow student’s high school yearbook that made his heart pump fast. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’d like to meet her,” Martin says.
College boys being who they are, Martin was soon dared to cold-call Vicki Teater, also a UK student, on the phone.
“That was my first act of recruiting,” Martin jokes. “We talked awhile, and I guess she liked me, because we set up a time to meet.”
Martin says Vicki later told him she got out a UK football game program to check out the guy who called her.
At their arranged first meeting, “she shows up with every one of her friends, I guess to make sure I wasn’t some kind of scary guy,” Martin says. “And, yeah, we started dating, and we got married our senior year.”
When New Mexico State (1-1) travels to Lexington to face Kentucky (0-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday, it will be a homecoming game for Doug and Vicki Martin.
When Martin as a recruit chose UK over Mississippi, Fran Curci was the Cats coach. However, Martin’s primary playing experience came during the first season of the coaching era of Curci’s replacement, Jerry Claiborne.
Only a tie with Kansas in the third game kept Kentucky from going 0-11 in 1982. Midseason, Martin replaced an interception-prone Randy Jenkins and made four starts at QB.
In a 34-10 loss to LSU, Martin suffered a knee injury. It was diagnosed as a sprain. Martin took cortisone shots to dull the pain and started two more games. Yet the knee would not stop throbbing. Eventually, he discovered he had actually torn two ligaments.
The damage he did to his knee that year sabotaged Martin’s playing career.
As Claiborne led UK to a 6-5-1 record in 1983 that ended with a loss to West Virginia in the Hall of Fame Bowl, Martin held for place-kicks. Rather than use his final season of eligibility in 1984, Martin became a Kentucky student assistant.
“From the start, Coach Claiborne believed in me as a coach, really worked to develop me,” Martin said.
For most of Martin’s long tenure as offensive coordinator (1996-2003) at East Carolina, he and Claiborne would talk on the phone once a week.
“I’d just run things by him, ‘This is what we’re looking at this week,’” Martin said. “Even then, he’d always steer the conversation to faith and family, things he believed were most important.”
Claiborne passed away in 2002 at 72. “I still miss him and those phone calls,” Martin said.
In the 15 years before Martin was hired at Kent State, the Golden Flashes were 30-136-1. Given the context, Martin having a 6-6 and three five-win seasons in seven years at Kent State is pretty good.
The 15 seasons prior to Martin becoming head man at NMSU, the Aggies went 53-126. Martin’s first three seasons have been more of the same — 2-10, 2-10, 3-9 — but he thinks the Aggies could make the turn in 2016 if they can stay healthy. New Mexico State travels to Kentucky off an exhilarating come-from-behind victory over archrival New Mexico last week.
In Martin’s willingness to take on head coaching challenges that many would shy from, he says you see the influence of Claiborne — 179-122-8 in 28 years at Virginia Tech, Maryland and UK.
“He went to three schools that had struggled, and left them all better,” Martin says. “That is what has motivated me, trying to go into situations that haven’t been the best and build something better.”
On Saturday, Martin’s journey comes back to the university where his career — and his marriage — got their starts.
“Vicki’s sister (Louise Teater) still lives in Lexington,” Doug Martin says. “Vicki’s excited about coming back, we both are.”