Dear Derek

An open letter to Derek Dooley regarding a matter of great importance:

You've spent your first five months as head football coach getting to know Tennessee's players, assistants, prospects, administrators and boosters. You've been so busy that you probably haven't spent five minutes getting to know Tennessee's traditions.

That situation needs to be resolved because tradition means an awful lot to the Vol Nation (Just ask Lane Kiffin). Even as the Big Orange suffered home-field losses to Vanderbilt in 2005 and to Wyoming in 2008, UT fans still could look down their noses at the opposing fans and sneer, "Yeah, we've got a bad team this year but at least we've got tradition."

When your program is struggling, tradition is the ultimate salve - soothing the hurt, hastening the healing process and reminding the multitudes that "This, too, shall pass." Fortunately for Big Orange fans who have suffered through more losses (13) than wins (12) the past two seasons, Tennessee is one of the NCAA's all-time leaders in football tradition.

Given the shaky outlook for the 2010 season, you may need to play the "tradition card" several times this fall, Coach. That's why we here at InsideTennessee have assembled everything you need to know about Tennessee tradition into one handy reference guide:


Charles Moore, who played for UT's first-ever football squad in 1891, suggested that bright orange and white be adopted as the school colors because they matched those of the daisies that grew in abundance all over the campus. The school agreed but didn't outfit the football team in orange jerseys until the 1922 season opener. The orange-clad lads promptly trounced Emory and Henry 50-0. There are many shades of orange, Coach Dooley, so make sure you're wearing the right one.


After 71 years of headgear that featured a stripe or less, head coach Bowden Wyatt had orange numbers placed on the side of Tennessee helmets in 1962. When he was fired after going 4-6, interim coach Jim McDonald replaced the orange numbers with black numbers in '63. He was switched to another position within the athletics department after going 5-5. Successor Doug Dickey came up with the idea of putting a "T" on the side of the helmet, and it has been there ever since.


Another Dickey brainchild, the orange and white checkerboard end zones gave Shields-Watkins Field a colorful and distinctive look between 1964 and 1968. They went into hiatus when Dickey convinced administrators to install "Doug's Rug" in 1969 but returned when UT switched to a new brand of artificial turf in 1989. The checkerboard end zones were retained when the Vols went back to natural grass in 1994 and continue to this day. Coach Dooley, you should be aware that any attempt to eliminate the checkerboard end zones or return to fake sod will be viewed as treason.


Dickey and Pride of the Southland band director W.J. Julian worked out a plan in 1969 to have band members form a giant, open-ended "T" shortly before the pre-game coin toss. Tennessee's players then race onto the field through the base of the formation and take their place along the home sidelines as the fans go absolutely wild. When the Vol locker room was located under the east stands, the players ran through the T and assembled along the west sidelines. Now that the locker room is beneath the north stands, the Vols run through the T and assemble along the east sidelines. This might be the single most cherished tradition in college sports, Coach Dooley, so don't even THINK about changing it.


General Andrew Jackson had no trouble locating 1,500 in-state volunteers to battle Indians and, later, the British at the Battle of New Orleans in December of 1814. Tennessee's reputation as "The Volunteer State" grew exponentially when Gov. Aaron V. Brown requested 2,800 enlistments to fight in the Mexican War (1846-1848) and had 30,000 Tennesseans answer the call. The UT color guard's "dragoon" uniform is a replica of the attire those soldiers wore. Keep in mind, Coach Dooley, that being a Volunteer has a much greater historical significance than being a Bulldog, a Tiger or a Gator.


Radio "Voice of the Vols" George Mooney grew so weary of the pre-game and post-game traffic snarls that engulfed the Knoxville area on home Saturdays that in 1962 he began navigating his boat down the Tennessee River, docking it across the street from Neyland Stadium. Fans began to follow suit, and the "Vol Navy" now numbers roughly 200 members.


Two and one-half hours before each home kickoff Tennessee's players leave the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center and make their way on foot toward Neyland Stadium. Thousands of supportive Vol fans line the path, forming a giant human corridor. This is just a suggestion, Coach Dooley, but you could make a lot of friends by encouraging your players to interact with the fans during the Vol Walk instead of simply zoning out to the music on their iPods.


Robert R. Neyland didn't actually originate the maxims during his legendary stint as Tennessee's head coach; he borrowed the maxims of his coach at West Point, James Dudley Daly, modified them and added a few of his own.

Neyland's maxims are read to the players prior to every Tennessee football game. They are:

1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.

2. Play for and make the breaks, and when one comes your way - SCORE.

3. If at first the game - or breaks - go against you, don't let up ... put on more steam.

4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game.

5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle ... for this is the winning edge.

6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.

7. Carry the fight to our opponent, and keep it there for sixty minutes.

Another suggestion, Coach Dooley: Lane Kiffin declined to read the maxims to the team, instead passing that responsibility to others. The maxims are Vol football's version of The Holy Grail, Coach, and it really would behoove you to read them yourself.


Written by Felice and Boudlaux Bryant, this catchy and beloved tune has become UT's unofficial fight song. The verses are pretty simple, Coach Dooley, but you needn't bother learning them. The pep band plays Rocky Top each time Tennessee scores, so you should have the entire song permanently etched in your memory by halftime of the season opener.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories