No Scarcity of History

In the worst of times for the Crimson Tide they could always get up for Tennessee while in the best of times Bama has dominated the Vols, but Saturday's renewal of this storied rivalry is most rare indeed because it pits an undefeated Tide squad against a sub .500 UT team.

What's so rare about that you ask? Well as unlikely as it might seem for a game famed for it's status as The Third Saturday in October midseason southern gridiron classic, the last time a scenario like this occurred was in 1962 when Bear Bryant brought Alabama (4-0 ) into Neyland Stadium to play an 0-3 Tennessee and came away with a 27-7 victory.

Ironically that 1962 season was Bowden Wyatt's last at his alma mater where he had earned All-American status as a single wing tailback under Robert R. Neyland. He coached both Wyoming and Arkansas to championships before being hired by Tennessee in 1955 to replace Harvey Robinson who went 10-10-1 in two years after succeeding the General. Like Wyatt, Robinson played for Neyland as did John Barnhill who replaced him during the war years of 1941, 1942, 1944 and 1945. Barnhill went on to become head coach and AD at Arkansas.

In fact since Neyland first arrived on the scene in 1926 to present day every Tennessee head football coach save two — Jim McDonald who coached the 1963 season and Bill Battle, who served seven seasons — either played for the General or came directly through his coaching tree.

Even Battle who played on Bear Bryant's first national title team 1961 spent four years as an assistant to Doug Dickey, who played at Florida for Bob Woodruff who played for Neyland. Dickey was also an assistant under Frank Broyles at Arkansas. Broyles played for Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech and Dodd played for Neyland. Dickey was 31 when he was hired by Tennessee in 1963 and Battle was 28 when he was hired to replace Dickey in 1969.

Phillip Fulmer played for both Dickey and Battle and he was Johnny Majors' longtime assistant before replacing the former Vol All-American in 1992. Majors was recruited by Neyland and played four seasons for Wyatt. He later served as an assistant for Broyles at Arkansas.

There was strong sentiment among many Tennessee fans favoring Majors to replace Dickey instead of Battle with his Alabama ties. At that time Majors was head coach at Iowa State having led the Cyclones to a rare bowl appearance.

In 1972 he landed the head coaching job at Pittsburgh and put together a national title team in four years. He couldn't repeat that feat in 16 seasons at UT's helm. One can't help but to wonder how Majors' career at Tennessee would have gone if he had inherited Dickey's players instead of Battle's players.

Of course the man who hired both Dickey and Battle was Woodruff who later hired Dickey as his handpicked replacement to be UT's athletic director. Dickey would later hire Fulmer to replace Majors. In his sixth season as head coach Fulmer won the national championship that eluded Majors and would come to elude Fulmer himself over the next decade. The lack of SEC titles during that same span underscored the decade long drought. By comparison the prior 10-year period the Vols won four SEC titles — 1989, 1990, 1997, 1998.

Although Majors was forced to resign in 1992 the skids were greased when a superior Tennessee team lost to Alabama 9-6 in Knoxville 1n 1990 and again in 1991 when they lost 24-19 in Birmingham. When UT lost to Bama in 1992 the losing streak had grown to seven straight.

That brings another point about the importance of this series. Every Tennessee head coach that has been fired since Neyland left the scene on a losing streak against Alabama including: Robinson, Wyatt, McDonald, Battle and Majors. Dickey left of his own accord to take the Florida job. Fulmer has had good success against Bama but he has lost three of the last four to the Tide including last season's 41-17 drubbing. Neyland ended his coaching career with three straight wins over the Crimson Tide and was 10-5-2 overall. He also beat Bryant in their three meetings. Oddly UT and Bama didn't begin their annual series until 1928 in Neyland's third season on The Hill.

These programs have held tight to their traditions over the years with Tennessee looking for the next Neyland and Alabama awaiting the next Paul Bear Bryant. They've retained the bedrock principles each of these coaching giants brought to the schools by hiring disciples of their belief system. The consequence has been a furiously fought series over the years. There is usually a lot on the line and when there isn't the game still rises above the records. These program have come to see the Third Saturday in October as the measuring stick even though they are in different divisions now with new rivals.

It's probably no coincidence during the Vols seven-game winning streak over Alabama (1995-2001) the Crimson Tide had six head coaches counting interim head coach Joe Kines in 2006. Now the Tide has turned and UT is on hard times and Alabama has the upper hand with Nick Saban riding high in his second season in Tuscaloosa.

There is pressure on Fulmer to get things headed the other way and soon. That makes this meeting all the more significant because no UT head coach has ever been fired after a season in which the Vols beat Alabama.


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