It has been six years since Tennessee sent word to Doug Dickey in Arkansas, urging him to pack his whistle and his clipboard and journey to Knoxville, where football had fallen on hard times. In the two previous seasons the Vols had lost 11 of 16 SEC games, and thank God and Davy Crockett for the likes of Tulane and Vanderbilt. Dickey arrived, surveyed the wreckage and announced the junk would have to go—such as the Vols' traditional single wing offense. There wasn't anything wrong with the offense; it was just that Tennessee couldn't recruit any talent to make it go. High school players, looking ahead to a pro career, knew there wasn't much of a future for a player with nothing but single wing credentials. The ones that did come weren't going anyplace else anyway.
"At least," said the Tennessee traditionalists, watching bitterly as their beloved single wing hit the junk pile, "Dickey hasn't come out and condemned the Southern Baptist Church." That first season, 1964, the Vols won just four games. "Ha," said the diehards. "Ha," said Dickey right back, "now we are ready to win," once again breaking from tradition. "You have to rate the first five teams in the SEC ahead of us. But we are no worse than a solid dark horse. Wait and see."
The dark horse won eight (including a victory over Tulsa in the Bluebonnet Bowl), had two ties and lost only one, and happy times had come to Knoxville once more. This year should be no exception, although the schedule is a killer, the quarterback is inexperienced and it will take no small miracle for the Vols to go unbeaten. Georgia and Mississippi are rated one-two (or two-one, depending upon the poll) in the SEC's preseason selections, and the Vols must face them—as well as Alabama and improving Kentucky—away from the comforts of their own artificial turf. (Doug's Rug, the artificial turf, turned black during the summer and had to be repainted green. "No, no, not paint," exclaimed a representative of the manufacturer, who was embarrassed. "It's not paint, it's a, ah, green solution.") In any event, paint or solution, the whole thing will be replaced, free, next year. "As far as playing, it's just as good as ever," said a Tennessee assistant. "It's just that it's the ugliest football field I've ever seen."
There is pressure all around, but most of it is on the shoulders of Bobby Scott, a 6'1" junior quarterback, long on potential but short on game experience. Last season he completed 26 of 55 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns. These are impressive statistics but ones that must be discounted, for he seldom played until after a game had been decided.
Like most teams Tennessee is going to the triple option. "At first in the spring Scott didn't handle it too well," says Dickey. "But in the last five practices, we began to see signs that he was mastering it. We made a few adjustments in what we were asking him to do and we finally settled for the things that he does best. Then he began to look good."
He had better, because, as Dickey admits, there isn't much behind him. Dennis Chadwick, a sophomore, is the No. 2 quarterback and he is finding that he has much to learn.
"If we go against Alabama this year with our quarterback hurt," Dickey says, with the hope that he won't, "we won't have a Bubba Wyche to step in and do the job."
Scott will be working with three excellent and experienced receivers: Tight End Ken DeLong, Split End Gary Kreis and Wingback Lester McClain. With them the Vols can expect to be strong through the air. But behind them the talent is thin, and again Dickey is worried about injuries.
"It's the same in the defensive secondary and with the linebackers," he said. "The players we'll start are good ones. Our linebackers are excellent. But if we have to go to the bench we may find ourselves in serious trouble."