Posted on

Loran - Smith

General Neyland
By Loran Smith
By Loran Smith


When Georgia opened the season versus Alabama between the hedges in 1959, one of the press box luminaries in attendance was Tennessee’s Gen. Robert Neyland. That caused quite a stir. In the first quarter Bill Godfrey burst through the line of scrimmage and dashed 40 yards for a touchdown. After the game, Dan Magill, Georgia’s preeminent publicist, came with a Neyland quote that added a lot of gloss to the Bulldog victory. “The blocking was as perfect as it could be,” the General said.

It was said of Neyland that he could tell you after a play what every lineman on the line of scrimmage had done. Bill Hartman said that Georgia’s Wallace Butts also had that ability. Matt Stinchcomb said the same thing about Kirby Smart when the former spoke to the Athens Touchdown Club in the last fortnight.

Neyland was old school and never changed his principles which essentially were to run off tackle, underscore defense and give the kicking game the ultimate priority.

He won many games by a touchdown or less. There were one-point games, a lot of 6-0 victories and 14-7 scores in close games. Believe it or not, he went an entire season, 1939, in which the opposition did not score a single point. The result, all games: Tennessee, 212; Opponents, 0.

One of his long-standing preachments was that all close games are lost by the losers, not won by the winners. Neyland finished his career with an .829 winning percentage which is the best in the history of the storied Southeastern Conference. The record of Alabama’s Bear Bryant is next. His career winning percentage was .780. The Bear never defeated the General.

For comparison, Nick Saban’s career win percentage is 79.1 while Kirby Smart’s is 85.6. There is a big difference in today’s game than in yesteryear, during the times of Neyland and Bryant. Their era was a low scoring era and while defense continued from page

is important—very important for Kirby Smart—he believes in scoring. His view is that ultimately the best offenses will get the better of the best defenses.

Neyland was an innovator. He was the first coach to sequester his team at a motel the night before home games where his teams ate and slept football the entire weekend. He was the first to use telephones from the press box to the field, the first to use tearaway jerseys, low top shoes, and lightweight hip pads to enhance speed.

In Neyland’s day, cotton was king in the South, and all farmers tuned into the weather forecasters, based in Memphis. They were the experts, and Neyland got to know them and talked to them each week in the fall.

During his military days, he was sent to M.I.T. following WW I, where he earned an engineering degree which he utilized to design the stadium which now bears his name.

Tennessee players through the ages are familiar with the term “Oskiwowwow.” That was a Neyland signal for the defense if they gained possession of the football—an interception, for example—that the defenders were suddenly on offense. They were blockers. Neyland learned about “Oskiwowwow,” from Indian lore.

His maxims have gained notoriety for decades. Coaches everywhere know Neyland’s maxims even if they never set foot on the Volunteer campus.

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 the 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 60 minutes.

Over the years, especially on trips to Knoxville, I have reviewed files with Neylan vignettes and lore, and while the game has changed, the fundamentals of the Neyland philosophy remain apropos for coaching football.

I see a lot of the crusty old General’s approach to fundamental football in Kirby Smart. As it was with Neyland, Kirby’s teams rarely beat themselves.

Recent Death Notices