Tennessee Football 2011: 25 Most Beloved Figures in Vols History
For more than 100 years, Tennessee football has turned up the turf across these United States. Players and coaches from all walks of life have contributed to the legacy of the Volunteers.
For the record, the Volunteer tag came not from football but from a rag-tag group of Tennesseans who willingly followed Davy Crockett to the Alamo where they knew they would face certain death, but they went because their countrymen also faced the same demise and would help out of patriotic pride.
It is that same spirit that the university adopted and searches for from their players and coaches to this day. In the slides to come, you will see some familiar faces and some are alien ones.
If grandpa is awake, ask him to tell you what he remembers about those you know not. If you don't have that history book handy, trust me, these guys were beloved.
Zora G Clevenger
Zora G Clevenger was what many considered at the time of his tenure, a journeyman coach.
From 1911-15 Clevenger re-established a football program that was failing. He quickly turned students into players and eventually led the Vols to their first undefeated season in 1914.
Not much is known about Clevenger's time at Tennessee, and after two hours of digging at the local library, I was only able to compile this much.
A point of interest: He may be one of the earliest recruiters, as he was despised by neighboring universities for offering a semester's tuition to opponent schools' players for their services and would buy the train tickets from his own pocket.
Mr. Clevenger was the innovator of Tennessee Football.
The second leading scorer in Tennessee history, Wilhoit never made any enemies because he was always on the money.
In 2004, Wilhoit was thrust into the pressure spot he was used to and didn't disappoint. With six seconds left on the clock, he threaded the needle by beating hated rival Florida 30-28.
Wilhoit could have committed murder in the state of Tennessee that night and walked away a free man.
Undeniably, Jamal Lewis was one of the most physical runners to ever take field. He might not have been the all-time leading rusher, but he still managed to win the hearts of Tennesseans by playing with passion and emotion.
He can always be remembered for constantly raising his hands to excite the crowd. And my personal favorite was his vicious stiff arm. I will never forget how he leveled an Alabama LB, which inevitably took the defender off his feet and exploded the Orange crowd into roars of cheer.
Rudy Klarer was the fiercest of competitors when others were ready to quit.
Carl Larkin: "He would go out on the field before the game and start working the crowd. You know like a ringmaster at the circus, and Coach Barnhill would have to go out there and drag him back to the locker room. I saw him do that at least three times."
Mr. Larkin later explained that Klarer was also a fireman during the summer break, of which he received notable mention from school and staff.
John Henry Barnhill
In 1931, Robert Neyland brought John Henry Barnhill into the coaching fold after leading Bristol Tennessee High School to a three-year record of 27-3. He helped Neyland develop Tennessee into national contenders in less than three years.
Barnhill was said to be happy following Neyland's orders and coaching the offensive line, but WWII broke out and somebody had to fill in.
Barnhill reluctantly took over for Neyland, not wanting to fill very over-sized shoes. Despite leaving after Neyland's return, he won respect statewide for leading the Vols through four seasons (excluding 1943 due to war efforts) to a 32-5-2 and won the Sugar Bowl in 1942.
For keeping Tennesseans' mind on something other than war, he is endeared forever.
Willis Tucker played center for Robert Neyland during his 10-1 season in 1940.
Again for background Carl Larkin: "Tucker always had his nose broke, felt sorry for him, but he was always smiling. He wore that nose like a badge of honor."
Mr. Larkin went on to explain that Tucker made crutches by hand for the children's' hospital in Sevierville. He went to great lengths to keep this anonymous, but it soon leaked out to the fans, and he was nicknamed "The Crutch."
Mr. Larkin remembers that Tucker went hungry a lot because he would pay for teammates' food who couldn't afford to travel and eat.
Clyde Fuson was a hard-nosed fullback and never worried about injuries. From Vol historian, Carl Larkin: "I saw him run 47 yards after getting spiked in the face by the other guy's helmet!" He was a tough son of a gun, him and Nowling."
He is most notable for scoring the winning TD over Tulsa in the 1943 Sugar Bowl. Sadly, not much is known about Fuson after he left Tennessee. Mr. Larkin informed me that Fuson was desperate to join the Army and looked extensively for a way to follow Robert Neyland.
Nowling was a three-year starter under Robert Neyland from 1940-42. On the field he was responsible for helping Neyland finish 10-1 before Neyland departed for duty in WWII.
Nowling finished under Coach John Barnhill and finished his collegiate campaign for Barnhill with another 17 wins. Sadly, Nowling lost his life in 1944 volunteering to serve his country in WWII.
Robert Lee Suffridge
Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1961, guard Robert Lee "Bobby" Suffridge was an All-American each of his three years with Tennessee.
Carl Larkin: "He was super strong and fast as grease on glass. He could power guys twice his size all over the field. And General Neyland loved him, hell we all followed him everywhere. But Neyland always made sure he shook Suffridge's hand whenever he came off the field. People from all over the state would come just to see him bully bigger guys. I even remember girls making bull moos, but the staff actually stopped that, you just didn't do that back then."
Mr. Larkin explained that Suffridge was the key player on Neyland's championship team, that started drawing people in and filling the seats. From 1939 on, ticket sales were dramatically climbing, and fistfights would break out over seat position. It sparked an new era for football, at least until Pearl Harbor.
Andy Kelley was the QB that started two decades of outstanding football for Tennessee. Kelley started at QB from 1988-91 and won consecutive SEC Championships from 89-90. When Kelley left for the NFL, he had broken all but two of 12 passing records.
And coming full circle, Kelley now calls the sideline report for the Vols Network.
Many Vol coaches past and present will say he set the bar for the new millennium.
Bill Bates was once asked what motivated him on the field and he replied "the people of Tennesee." After that comment, he forever burned himself into the hearts of anyone wearing orange.
As one of the most dominant LB in Volunteer history, he is sadly known most for being smashed by Herschel Walker midfield and failing to stop the Georgia back allowing him to score.
Player and coach, few gave as much as Johnny Majors did to the university. Runner-up to the Heisman trophy in 1956, it is rumored that Paul Hornung of Notre Dame (who is the only recipient to win with a losing record) won because Tennessee was not respected for their schedule.
Majors went on to coach for Tennessee from 1977-1992 and finished his career 116-62-8, with 11 bowl appearances and seven wins.
John Chavis was an exception to the rule. Walking on for Bill Battle in 1976, he later earned a scholarship and would eventually letter under Bill Battle and Johnny Majors.
After his playing career he honed his skills in Alabama and eventually returned to work for Majors before assuming role as defensive coordinator and assistant coach under head coach Phillip Fulmer.
In his 1989-2008 tenure, Chavis was known for building one of the toughest defenses in the country, by shoring up the DL corp and establishing top tier LB every season. Chavis was hardly, if ever on a "hot-seat" and we was beloved by fans and players alike.
Nobody does it better. Each time Eric Berry took the field, he played as if it was his last.
Collecting over 23 awards for athletics and academics during his college career he is most notable for his predator-like play. Intercepting passes out of nowhere or delivering hits that could be heard outside the stadium, he was irreplaceable and earned every chant of E-R-I-C B-E-R-R-Y.
He was a high-point when the Vols had none.
A member of the SEC Football Legends Class, Al Wilson defined the intensity of Tennessee football. He has been recalled by Peerless Price for questioning the commitment of Peyton Manning during halftime at the SEC Championship as they were down 20-10, "The Speech" can be quoted almost word for word by any player there.
The Vols managed a comeback to win 30-29 over Auburn. The next season, Wilson surprisingly collected 77 tackles during the 1998 National Championship season even though he missed three games due to injury.
All-American and two-time All SEC, Wilson was also known for spending countless hours off the field donating his time to children and Habitat for Humanity.
The world lost Reggie White way too early. Sadly, he died in his sleep from an advanced condition of sleep apnea.
For Tennesseans, he will be remembered as one of the toughest defensive players ever to grace Neyland Stadium. During his senior year, he set the school record for sacks stacking up 15 with a game-high four solo sacks against the Citadel. He still holds the career record for sacks with 32.
Peerless Price was always waiting to do more, but he did more with a few plays than many did with a dozen.
From 1995-97 he was left standing in the shadows of Joey Kent and Marcus Nash but still managed to pull in respectable numbers behind the two starters, however Price was forever looking for those big plays.
He would get his chance in 1998 but not behind Peyton Manning. With Tee Martin at the helm, Price and Martin spent the entire season making defenders pay for ever doubting that they were a championship team.
Martin will forever be in the hearts of Vols for catching the winning TD during the SEC Championship against Mississippi State, ensuring the Vols a trip to the Fiesta Bowl and a win against FSU.
Heath is and will remain my favorite Tennessee QB. Despite being chastised regularly by Johnny Majors, he never got rattled and delivered a top-tier performance every game. In 1993, Shuler was another Vol to play runner-up in the Heisman race.
While at Tennessee, Shuler broke the single season passing record, most TDs in a game, most rushing TD's by a QB and in a season. While these records have long since been broken, they remain a major turning point for Volunteeer football.
Long before Reggie White, there was Doug Atkins. Originally showing up at Tennessee to play basketball, Robert Neyland discovered there was more to meet the eye with Atkins. Standing at an impressive 6'8", Neyland witnessed how easily he moved his 250-pound-plus frame around the court and had to have him for the team.
He was quickly made famous for being the tallest DE in the country ever. And after a few starts he became the most feared DE in the SEC, having once tackled an opposing QB so hard, he left the game with two broken ribs.
Atkins was a 1951 All-American and an SEC Player of the Quarter Century award. Most notably, he was part of the 1951 National Championship team.
Tee Martin was quite simply the perfect QB for the perfect time. Waiting behind Peyton Manning for two years, Martin feared he would never get an opportunity to play.
Fortunately for Tennessee his chance came in 1998. Tee Martin started each game and led the Vols to an undefeated season, finally beating FSU in the Fiesta Bowl National Championship.
During his 1998 season he threw for 19 TDs and only six interceptions on the season and finished with a 144.4 rating.
Doug Dickey arrived in Knoxville 1964 and quickly set about building a football program. He set up academic criteria for his players that still exist to this day.
He is well known for introducing the power T that is also still unchanged as well, and he also coordinated the opening of the T, so that the team would have a grander entrance onto the field that would separate them from their opponents.
Despite having lost three of five bowl appearances and for returning to captain the AD chair from 1985-2002, he remains an honored icon.
It doesn't really matter what Condredge Holloway's stats are.
In 1972, he became the first African-American QB to start for an SEC school. More than that, he was an inspiration to countless men, women and children of all races. Overcoming adversity and stereotypes, Holloway managed a 25-9-2 career with three bowl appearances in his three years as starter.
There remains to this day a rumor that in a broken play against Georgia Tech, each member of the defensive squad touched Holloway but he managed to evade them all and rush for a TD.
Today, he is still at Tennessee as assistant AD and head of student-athlete relations.
He is also featured in a mini-documentary on ESPN, The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway story.
There are countless things you can say about Peyton Manning, and just when you think you've said them all, someone brings up another point.
Hated but respected by all SEC opposing schools, he managed to leave his mark on them all, win or lose. Some of his records have been or will be broken, but no one will ever accomplish as much as he did on and off the field.
In the state of Tennessee, there were over 18,000 birth registrations with some form of Peyton in it from 1997-2002, and there are also 33 streets or thoroughfairs with his name, a fine example of love and devotion.
There is plenty of controversy that surrounds Phillip Fulmer.
Was he a good coach? Yes, I believe the numbers speak for themselves. Did he lose his way? Yes, but I don't think anyone hasn't made some choices that they regret.
Do we love them any less? I think it would be petty to say anything but no. Phillip Fulmer was a player and a coach and gave over 20 years of his life to the university. For all of his achievements and failures, he should be remembered as a man who woke up a state that was asleep on Tennessee football for over a decade.
As a coach, he was 152-52 during 17 years, 15 bowl appearances, eight of which were wins.
General Robert Neyland
Yes, I know it's no surprise.
Robert Neyland was by all accounts the man who put the University of Tennessee on the map. He helped shape the lives of thousands of men, football players and soldiers. He was a patriot, a soldier, a teacher and a statesman.
He truly believed in the people of his state and the students who attended his university. He never said anything disparaging about other schools or their teams. He was a gentleman and a man that loved football, and it loved him back.
That is why he is enshrined in stone; the National Championship was just decoration. To this day, he remains sitting in the same pose as shown above. He will remain No. 1 in Volunteer hearts until they close the hallowed doors.
Special thanks to Carl Larkin. Mr. Larkin was a spectator during General Neyland's coaching career.