'Swamp Rat' a linebacker?

Dewey Warren wanted to play middle linebacker in college, not quarterback. He wanted to hit people, not get hit. He wanted to stop touchdown drives, not engineer them. He might have gotten his wish, if Tennessee hadn't changed from the Single Wing the year Doug Dickey arrived in 1964.

Warren came the year before, out of Savannah, Ga. He came with a unique nickname, Swamp Rat. He lived near the water as a kid. In 1961, he was late for a high school football practice. His coach said: ``You act like an old swamp rat out there on the water all the time.''

The nickname stuck.

Warren wanted to play at Georgia, but then-Georgia coach Wally Butts said Warren wasn't good enough. Alabama coach Paul ``Bear'' Bryant said Warren should play linebacker. That's what Warren envisioned.

``When I came to Tennessee, I wanted to play linebacker,'' Warren said. ``I knew if they switched from the Single Wing, I might have a chance to play quarterback. I enjoyed playing defense because I got to hit people.''

When Dickey was hired and moved away from the Single Wing, Warren played quarterback and eventually turned that into a glorious career. Warren has been selected for induction into the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame on July 27.

Warren's time as a Tennessee quarterback got off to a rocky start. Freshmen weren't eligible in 1963. In 1964, Warren was being redshirted. With the offense struggling – 40 points in four games – Dickey called Warren up from the scout squad.

It was the week of the Alabama game. George Cafego, who coached the freshmen, the scout team and special teams, had some advice for Warren.

``Cafego says, `Go up there and throw wild, throw it in the ground, throw it high so they don't mess your year up,''' Warren recalled.

Warren took Cafego's advice. He threw it high. He threw it low. He hit the tower. He threw it everywhere.

``Dickey said, `Go back down, you're not ready to come up,'' Warren said. ``When I came back down, I told Cafego, `It worked, didn't it?'''

It worked then, but it might have backfired for the next season. Warren battled for the starting job, but Dickey picked Charlie Fulton, who was more mobile than Warren but not near the passer.

In the seventh game, Fulton got hurt against Ole Miss. Warren came in and rallied the Vols, but they fell to the Rebels 14-13. Warren played well enough to keep the starting job the rest of his career.

``George Cafego always told me, `When you get your opportunity, take full advantage. Go in and don't ever let them get it back.''

But when Warren went in against Ole Miss, he wasn't totally prepared. After Fulton got hurt, Warren rushed onto the field with excitement. His teammates noticed something odd.

``All of them looked at me and said, `We know you're crazy, but are you going to wear a helmet today?'' Warren said. ``I forgot my helmet. Had to call timeout. And you know what? Dickey didn't like that.''

Warren's signature win came a month later, when he scored the winning touchdown over fifth-ranked UCLA in a thrilling 37-34 contest in Memphis. UCLA was headed to the Rose Bowl, UT to the Bluebonnet Bowl, so the game was dubbed the Rosebonnet Bowl.

``They thought we were a bunch of country hicks,'' Warren said.

Dickey had beaten Georgia Tech twice when it was ranked No. 7, but the win over UCLA was huge, and helped propel the Dickey Era. The Vols were 8-1-2 in 1965, 8-3 in 1966, then won the SEC in 1967, going 9-2 and losing only to UCLA during the regular season.

Warren had great respect for Dickey as a coach.

``He was tough and disciplined,'' Warren said. ``He was like a marine sergeant. A lot of the guys today, I don't know if they could have gone through one of his practices. When we had two-a-days, the quarterbacks had three-a-days because we went out after lunch before the afternoon practice.

``Dickey was tough but he got you well prepared. If we got beat, it wasn't because we weren't prepared. He was a great coach. He meant business. It was done his way or the highway.''

Chuck Rohe, UT's football recruiting coordinator under Dickey, said Dickey could have done in the SEC what Bryant did if Dickey hadn't left for Florida after the 1969 season. Warren agrees.

``I've always said this: `Why does a king leave his castle?''' Warren said. ``He would have had a dynasty (at Tennessee).''

Warren played a couple of years in the NFL, then coached at Brigham Young with LaVelle Edwards. After two successful seasons in Utah, Warren took a job at Kansas State with Vince Gibson, who was a UT assistant when Warren played for the Vols. It might have been the worst mistake of Warren's career.

Gibson was soon fired and Warren ended up coaching high school ball in Tennessee, then went to Sewanee. He's been out of coaching for some 20 years.

Warren regrets leaving BYU. He regrets not getting to play against Georgia or Georgia Tech in college. But he doesn't regret not playing linebacker.

Tennessee's move from the Single Wing helped pave the way for a Hall of Fame career as a quarterback.

And you know what? Swamp Rat just doesn't sound like a name for a linebacker.


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