Progress is the buzzword around Knoxville, Tennessee this summer. The Vols football team continues its progress on the field and the contractors around Neyland Stadium continue their progress on the stadium and Tennessee video board, Vol Tron.
Visitors to Neyland Stadium in 2009 will notice the changes immediately with the west side exterior work that has been done. That area is not finished however.
After the 2009 season, the areas that will be painted brown for 2009, will be bricked over, giving Neyland Stadium a classy new look.
Last week’s article talked about the Vol Tron and work should wrap up on that new pearl this week. The cabinets are going in on the back side this week that will hold the photos. That should finish the work up for the crew from Oregon that has been working on the Vol Tron all summer.
The Big Orange Football Warm Up and more concluded in Knoxville on Tuesday and the second week session was even more entertaining than the first week. Opening the program of speakers was father of current Vol offensive tackle, Aaron Douglas, and a former Vol offensive tackle himself, David Douglas.
David Douglas was an offensive tackle from 1982-85 under young offensive line coach Phillip Fulmer. Douglas walked on at Tennessee but through hard work and determination, he became a starter and scholarship player at Tennessee as well as a draftee of the Cincinnati Bengals and a player in a Super Bowl before the end of his playing career.
Douglas started on the offensive line in 1984 while his younger brother started on the defensive line. Douglas played in the 1985 Sugar Bowl victory over Miami in the Super Dome and brought his helmet from that game, (pictured below). However, most interesting in his discussion was Douglas’ story of being lined up against All Pro Reggie White every day in practice once he was made a starter.
Douglas talked of having the responsibility of blocking White on every play and said that before Reggie’s untimely death, the man that might be the best defensive lineman to ever play thanked Douglas for making him a better player.
Next to the podium was Volunteer Sports Information Director Bud Ford. Mr. Ford brought a 2009 season preview pack and fan packs for the fans in attendance. Ford talked about where Tennessee got the idea for the fan packs and the information/schedule cards inside them.
Ford said years ago when the University hosted a professional exhibition game, the Steelers had such a card and pack of information and the University decided to begin the same practice. Bud also mentioned the new SEC TV deal and how it puts the SEC ahead of all other conferences by getting the SEC product across the country.
Once the first game selection is made by CBS, ESPN will play every other game in the SEC, non-conference or otherwise on its family of networks. Those networks include, ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, ESPNU, ESPN Classic and ESPN 360.
ESPN has also worked with another distribution company to place games on regionally in the southeast at 1221 on Saturdays, which takes the place of the old Lincoln Financial/JP Sports package.
What I didn’t know is that those games are also going to be taken to major markets throughout the country. Ford mentioned LA, New York, Dallas and Minneapolis as just a few of the markets that those games will be played.
This means that California Vol fans will be able to hop up at 8:30 am to watch the Vols and Western Kentucky with their kegs and eggs. Bud Ford lastly mentioned that for the conference games that are not already announced, there would be a 12-day window previous to the game day that the times and channels would be announced.
Ford said that if CBS passes on a game at 3:30, and the game is not picked up by the regional package, then games will be 6:00 or later, bringing more night games to Tennessee fans.
Game times that are announced are, Western Kentucky September 5th 12:21 pm, UCLA September 12th 4:00 pm, at Florida September 19th 3:30pm and just announced Ohio September 26th 7:00 pm. Stay tuned to the Blazer Chronicles for new times as they are announced.
The next speaker was not on the program, but I can assure you that fans in attendance did not mind the interruption. Long time and former Voice of the Vols John Ward made his yearly appearance and spoke to those on hand for just a few minutes.
John usually tells stories from his career and this year was no different. Tying into David Douglas’ time, the Vol legend told of a story from the 1985 Sugar Bowl where TV announcers for ABC told Bill Anderson, Ward’s partner, that they hoped Tennessee could just “keep it close” enough to not lose their audience.
The ABC announcers believed that Tennessee would lose to Miami and wanted to ensure the game didn’t become boring. Miami scored to go up 7-0 and then Tennessee scored 35 unanswered points to defeat the Hurricanes on National Television. After the game, Bill Anderson saw the ABC announcers and apologized for Tennessee not being able to “keep it close”.
David Blackburn stepped to the podium next and this man, who is the Senior Associate Athletic Director and Director of Football Operations, was a very impressive speaker. His motivational speaking style and content were very entertaining.
Blackburn, you will remember from last week’s Blazer Chronicles, was on the transition team that assisted Mike Hamilton with the coaching search. Blackburn is a Volunteer since childhood. He was a student at Tennessee and was hired in 1993 by new head coach Phillip Fulmer as Recruiting Coordinator.
Blackburn worked under Fulmer through 2002 and he spoke of the “amazing impact” that Fulmer had on the University of Tennessee. Blackburn is also very excited about Lane Kiffin and the direction of the football team. David mentioned a few things that the staff is focusing on: Fundamentals over scheme, clear direction with energy, and operating with a servant mentality.
David said that if the team can focus on the fundamentals, know where they are going to go and get there with energy and passion while having a mentality of taking care of your team first. Then, success will quickly follow.
Blackburn mentioned a quote from Monte Kiffin that I thought was strong: “Either you are teaching it, or you are allowing it to happen."
Blackburn said that he understand this as it relates to football as well as personal life. If you are not teaching someone or helping them understand how to do the right things, then you are allowing that person to fail by doing things the wrong way.
Before Blackburn left, he handed out a sheet that listed the organizational components of running a major university football program. \
The handout included that a team consists of 130 players, 10 coaches, six Graduate Assistant/Interns and a support staff of 20 that includes Strength and Conditioning, trainers, video operators, equipment, academic support and administration support. Tennessee’s overall football budget is approximately $13.5 million, $12.3 million for operations and the country’s largest recruiting budget at $1.2 million annually.
Tennessee’s offensive coordinator found time to come in and speak between practice and a coaches meeting. Jim Chaney was very entertaining and fresh. Chaney joked around and also sent the message that Tennessee coaches and players were dedicated to winning.
Chaney said he is pleased to begin his 25th year in coaching with Lane Kiffin, who he sees as a very talented, multi-tasker with high energy who what you see with him, is what you get.
Chaney said he hit the ground running in January with his first trip to Wichita Kansas to recruit the No. 1 player and eventual Tennessee commit, Bryce Brown. Chaney said he was, “Damn glad he went to Wichita.”
Chaney said that Tennessee’s facilities are very nice but that there are a few places he has been that have better facilities. Chaney will be in the press box during games this season and said he will collaborate with Lane on play calling duties.
Before leaving, the Blazer Chronicles asked Coach Chaney to compare what he has seen in the SEC on film so far with what he knows of the Big Ten from his days at Purdue.
Chaney said that the SEC has NFL coaches and that its front guys on both offense and defense are stronger, faster and more athletic. Chaney downplayed, however, the importance of that gap by saying that it’s our job to see what the other teams do, and change what we are doing to beat it.
Last to the podium was Knoxville lawyer and former SEC referee and Tennessee Vol defensive lineman, Mack Gentry. Gentry began working in Neyland Stadium at the age of 10, selling peanuts.
He later moved to selling programs and eventually became a Tennessee defensive lineman. During his recruitment and sometime after, he was offered a four-year scholarship at Tennessee. Gentry made a trip to Florida to talk with head coach Ray Graves.
What Tennessee’s coaching staff didn’t know was that Graves was Gentry’s second cousin. Florida, however, could only offer Gentry a one-year scholarship and so Gentry came home to Tennessee.
Gentry played and worked with an impressive list of coaches that included Bob Woodruff, Doug Dickey, Bill Battle and even Bill Parcells at the Naval Academy later in life. Gentry said he had no desire to become a lawyer, but when he was going to graduate before playing his fourth year after a redshirt, the NCAA would not let him play unless he was a student. Therefore, he took some law classes and stayed on as a student coach two years to finish his degree.
After his time at Tennessee and West Point, Gentry decided to become an SEC official. He served in that role from 1979-1997 and then retired from college duties to join his brother in high school officiating. The NFL lockout of officials gave him an opportunity to fill in for a few games on the pro level, going from a high school game on one Friday to an NFL stadium the following Thursday night. Gentry, like most former Vols, loves his University and his passion and love showed through.
The Big Orange Warm Up and More 2009 closed after that, which means that Tennessee fans are one step closer to a new season and a new beginning. Progress is certainly being made in and around the Tennessee team and everyone will see that progress on Sept. 5th when the Vols kick off against Western Kentucky.