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A Look Into The Wisdom Of Tennessee Football Legends

“The game of football is beginning to gain a foothold in Knoxville”

– Knoxville Journal, Nov. 20, 1891

A few days ago, while at my grandparents’ house in Houston, I stumbled upon a box that belonged to my grandfather containing an assortment of historical college football and Tennessee Volunteers memorabilia.

While digging through the box, one beaten-up and weathered paperback book caught my attention right away. The book was titled The Wisdom of College Football: Common Sense and Uncommon Genius from 101 Gridiron Greats compiled and edited by Criswell Freeman.

I opened the book to the middle page and to my surprise, saw a quote from General Robert Neyland at the top of the page. Then I turned the page again only to see a quote from Bill Battle, followed by Bobby Dodd, and more Tennessee legends.

I was born in 1996 and for my generation, our version of the legendary Tennessee years have only been seen through YouTube clips and hand-me-down stories. And while certain highlights have been ingrained in our heads, there are plenty of smaller moments that are forgotten about along the way.

History can be documented in many different ways. And while it may be a dying breed with the rise of technology and video, quotes from the giants can stand the test of time. Whether these quotes bring back old and classic memories, or they are brand new, I hope you enjoy reading through them as much as I did.

General Robert Neyland

Tennessee Head Coach 1926-34, 1936-40, 1946-52. Brigadier General in the United States Army.

On Gridiron Advice

Football is a game of defense and field position.

Minimize your mistakes, and magnify the mistakes of your opponent

On Attitude

In the struggle between equal teams, the difference is never physical but invariably mental.

On Preparation

What makes for success? Practice. We scrimmage plays more than 100 times in spring practice and another 100 times in the fall. You don’t develop good teeth eating mush, and you don’t learn good football going through the motions.

A football team is like an army. Your men must be in good physical condition. They must have technical ability, and they must have high morale.

On Tradition

Tennessee sophomores don’t deserve citizenship papers until they have survived an Alabama game.

On Winning & Losing

It’s not the number of plays you have, but how you execute them.

When they look back at that 9-1 season, they don’t ask who the nine were.

On Leadership

It is important to keep the squad eternally aware of the very nature of football so that they are not dismayed when things are going wrong.

On Adversity

You never know what a football player is made of until he plays Alabama.

On Observations

To defeat a weak opponent is not the problem: The problem is to win when he is as good or better than you.

Johnny Majors

Tennessee All-American Halfback, Head Coach 1977-92

On Character

Wealth and status mean nothing on the football field; effort and unselfishness mean everything.

On Preparation

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

On Teamwork

The first thing any coaching staff must do is weed out selfishness. No program can be successful with players who put themselves ahead of the team.

On Coaching Advice

No head coach can be better than his staff. Show me a winning team, and I’ll show you a good group of assistant coaches.

Bill Battle

Tennessee Assistant Coach 1966-69, Head Coach 1970-76

On Coaching Advice

When they run you out of town, make it look like you’re leading the parade.

Bob Bell

2013 Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Inductee, Former University of Tennessee Football Broadcaster

On Tradition

People who haven’t been to Knoxville on a football Saturday cant understand the experience. Its excitement beyond description.

Bowden Wyatt

Tennessee Defensive End 1936-38, Head Coach 1955-62, Athletic Director 1962-63

On Gridiron Advice 

My advice for defensive players: Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

Bobby Dodd

Tennessee Quarterback/Tailback 1928-30, College Football Hall of Fame Inductee

On Preparation

Preparation is as necessary to successful coaching as weather is to the weather man – there must be some of it every day.

On Tradition

I’d rather face the lions in the Coliseum than the Tigers in Baton Rogue.

On Coaching Advice

Either love your players or get out of coaching.

Doug Dickey

Tennessee Head Coach 1964-69, Athletic Director 1985-2002

On Observations

In the football business, if you’re standing still, you’re losing ground.

All quotes are excerpts from the book The Wisdom of Southern Football compiled and edited by Criswell Freeman. Full citation can be found below.

Freeman, C. (1995). The Wisdom of Southern Football: Common sense and uncommon genius from 101 gridiron greats. Nashville, TN: Walnut Grove Press.

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