Football histories at WVU and Tennessee
SHEPHERDSTOWN — West Virginia once had an unbeaten football season under the guidance of coach Clarence “Doc” Spears. That was in 1922. Long after that proud-to-be-a-Mountaineers season, coach Don Nehlen led WVU to unbeaten regular seasons in both 1988 and 1993. Both those seasons ended with losses in bowl games.
Tennessee’s football legacy was penned by General Robert Neyland, an advocate of the single wing who coached the Volunteers to extreme excellence from 1926-1934, when his eye-catching record was 76-7-5. Later, Neyland was in the military for a time, but returned to Tennessee to guide the troops to the national championship in 1938 and unbeaten campaigns in both 1939 and 1940.
Neyland’s 1939 team did not allow any points in the regular season before losing to USC in front of 90,000 fans in the Rose Bowl.
During World War II, Neyland was back in the service, before returning to Knoxville to coach national championship teams in both 1950 and 1951. He retired from coaching in 1952 when his health declined, having achieved a 54-17-4 record in his second stint as head coach.
His charges had winning streaks of 33 games, 28 games and 14 games.
After Neyland’s move to be the school’s athletic director, Tennessee football was mostly in decline and generally no longer hailed as an elite program. Beginning in 1957, and enduring many bumpy roads for 30 years, the Big Orange often struggled in the Southeastern Conference.
In 1951, running back Hank Lauricella finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. In 1956, tailback Johnny “Drum” Majors finished second when Paul Hornung, playing for a 2-8 Notre Dame team, was selected for the award.
What had once been Shields-Watkins Field with a seating capacity of 3,200 finally became Neyland Stadium in 1962 and eventually was enlarged to hold over 105,000.
Beginning in 1964, coach Doug Dickey (1964-69) had a career record of 46-15-4, Majors returned from Pittsburgh to coach from 1977-92 before heart problems made him retire and Phillip Fulmer coached from 1993-2008, with a national championship in 1998.
Peyton Manning was a four-year starter at quarterback for the Vols before Fulmer was forced out.
The past 20 years of Tennessee football hasn’t made the faithful forget Neyland, the Pride of the Southland marching band or the orange-and-white checkerboard pattern in the Neyland Stadium end zones.
Last season, the Big Orange went 4-8 overall and 0-8 in the SEC — the worst season in the school’s history.
West Virginia has past coaches Earle “Greasy” Neale, Clarence “Doc” Spears, Fielding “Hurry Up” Yost and Nehlen in the College Football Hall of Fame. One-time Mountaineer player Floyd “Ben” Schwartzwalder, who made most of his waves as the long-time coach at Syracuse, is also in the same Hall of Fame.
Six former West Virginia players have also landed in the College Football Hall of Fame — Ira Errett Rodgers, Bruce Bosley, Darryl Talley, Jumbo Joe Stydahar, Major Harris and Sam Huff.
In its centuries-long football history, WVU has produced some notable seasons that saw Harry McCrory produce a 5-1 record in 1895, Harry Anderson preside over a 6-1 mark in 1898, Harry Trout guide the Mountaineers through a 7-1 season in 1903, Carl Forkum go 8-1 in the 1905, “Doc” Spears turn in records of 10-0-1, 7-1-1 and 8-1 in the early 1920s, Rodgers lead the way to an 8-1 record in 1925, Marshall Glenn have an 8-1-1 mark in 1937 and Art “Pappy” Lewis send his Mountaineers through records of 7-2, 8-2, 8-1 and 8-2.
In 1962, Gene Corum presided over a team that went 8-2, Jim Carlen was in Morgantown in 1969 for a 10-1 season, Don Nehlen had unbeaten regular seasons in both 1988 and 2003 before losing in the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls, Rich Rodriguez produced an 11-1 season in 2005 and was 11-2 in 2006. The 2007 team was also 11-2, but Bill Stewart coached the win in the season finale in the Fiesta Bowl.
Current WVU leader Dana Holgorsen is 53-37 overall in his coaching stint from 2011 through 2017. Holgorsen faces first-year Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt on Saturday in Charlotte at 3:30 p.m.
The Big Orange versus the Old Gold and Blue.
History resides — sometimes restlessly — in both camps.