Tennessee Volunteers Football History and Trivia

Tennessee Volunteers Neyland Stadium

Nestled in the heart of Knoxville, Tennessee, the Volunteers football program stands as a testament to the rich tradition and passionate spirit that define the people and culture of this Smoky Mountain region.
The Volunteers (or Vols as it is commonly shortened to) derive that nickname from the State of Tennessee's nickname. Tennessee is known as the "Volunteer State", a nickname it earned during the War of 1812, in which volunteer soldiers from Tennessee played a prominent role, especially during the Battle of New Orleans.

When did the U. of Tennessee begin its football program?

The origins of Tennessee football can be traced back to 1899 when the university fielded its first team. The early years were marked by the challenges of establishing a competitive program, but the 1920s witnessed a significant turning point with the arrival of head coach Robert Neyland.

Coach Neyland's tenure, spanning multiple decades from 1926-1952 with intermittent breaks, would become synonymous with Tennessee football excellence. Under Neyland's leadership, the Volunteers achieved unprecedented success, laying the foundation for future triumphs.
Coach Neyland guided the Volunteers to seven national championships (1938, 1940, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1956, 1958), solidifying his status as one of the greatest coaches in college football history.
Legendary coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant on Robert Neyland, "People think I’m the greatest damn coach in the world, but Neyland taught me everything I know".

Tennessee Vols Coach Robert Neyland with Hank Lauricella
Coach Robert Neyland with Hank Lauricella

Maxims of Football: Neyland's famous "Seven Game Maxims" emphasized principles of discipline, teamwork and strategy. These maxims became guiding tenets for the Volunteers and are revered as timeless wisdom in football coaching.

Where do the Vols play their home games?

U-T's football home is Neyland Stadium, where Tennessee has won 478 games, the highest home-field total for any school in the nation at its current home venue.
The stadium's official capacity is 101,915. Constructed in 1921 as Shields–Watkins Field (which is now the name of the playing surface), Neyland Stadium is the sixth largest stadium in the United States, the eighth largest stadium in the world, and the second largest stadium in the SEC.

Checkerboard End Zones: Many football programs, Tennessee included, had used checkerboard patterns to decorate end zones dating to at least the 1930s, but the addition of the orange color, introduced in 1964 by head coach, Doug Dickey, was a new and unique tradition for Tennessee. This design remained until artificial turf was installed at Neyland Stadium in 1968.
The design was brought back, however, in 1989. The idea was inspired by the checkerboard design around the top of the clock tower at historic Ayres Hall.
The checkerboard was bordered in orange from 1989 until 1994, when natural grass replaced the artificial turf. The return of natural grass brought with it the return of the green (or grass colored) border that exists today.

The football program faced challenges in the aftermath of World War II when the Volunteers struggled to regain their footing. However, adversity fueled resilience, and by the 1950s, Tennessee was once again a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron.

The 1980s saw the emergence of iconic players like Reggie White, who became a dominant force in college football before embarking on a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. The Volunteers continued to build on their legacy, setting the stage for a remarkable period in the 1990s.

The 1990s and National Championship Glory

The 1990s marked a golden era for Tennessee football, characterized by iconic moments and championship aspirations. Coach Phillip Fulmer, a former player under Neyland, led the Volunteers to unparalleled success.
One of the most famous games in Tennessee Volunteers football history was the first ever National Championship game in 1998 against Florida State. The Volunteers won the game 23-16, thanks in large part to a heroic performance by quarterback Tee Martin. Martin threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns, and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Peyton Manning's Legacy (1994-97) Before entering the NFL and becoming a Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning carved his name in Tennessee football lore. He became Tennessee's all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns and won 39 of 45 games as a starter, breaking the Southeastern Conference (SEC) record for career wins. Manning's contributions to the program and his enduring legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the sport are celebrated to this day.

As of the end of the 2023 regular season, Tennessee is ranked eleventh for all-time won-lost records by percentage and tenth by victories. The Vols all-time record is 864–414–53 (.669). At Neyland Stadium, the Vols have a record of 478–141–17 (.765).

Trivia and Unique Traditions