Winter workouts, then and now

Marvin West

Winter workouts are under way at Tennessee – famous new strength and conditioning coach, new goals, positive attitudes, favorable conditions.

Motivation is firmly in place. Players need only review the Vandy video to conclude the need for improvement.

The Vols have great facilities. Official description is state of the art. Modern machines are or were all around. Ambiance is the stuff of champions. Refreshments are available.

The team will strive to get stronger and quicker. One plan will not fit all. Individuals, as Butch likes to say, will have individual programs designed to meet their needs. Rock Gullickson has a book of plans. He may have a scientific formula for reducing injuries. This is critical.

The winter aspect of college football is completely different from the good old days. Robert R. Neyland suggested that players not get fat in the off-season, what there was of it. His idea of the lull between storms was a couple of weeks of fishing in Florida. Early spring practice was vigorous.

Under the guidance of Bowden Wyatt, football players were encouraged to stay in shape. They could lift weights or participate in racquetball or handball. They could play intramural basketball or sign up for a volunteer, noncredit physical education class.

Real live winter workouts arrived with young coach Doug Dickey. He had learned the value as an assistant coach at Arkansas. He was surprised that UT had nothing similar.

Dickey told the story of sending forth a search committee to find a place for workouts. It didn’t find much. There was running room at Dean Planters Tobacco Warehouse. Weather permitting, there were open spaces at the agriculture campus.

The report mentioned the possibility of the northwest corner of Neyland Stadium, under Section X. It was described as unsuitable, dirty, drab and dreary, space once used for storage.

Dickey inspected it. He said the room looked like something left over from the Civil War, except dusty cobwebs appeared older.

The coach could have made it better. He made it worse. He installed old mats on the floor and hung a heavy rope from on high. Those who thought they wanted to be on his football team were going to do agility drills, wrestle, fight and scratch as if their life depended on it and then climb that blasted rope, hand over hand, until they bumped their head on the concrete ceiling.

Center Bob Johnson remembers a one-on-one war, Vols on opposite sides of the mat, no rules, do anything you want to get to the other side.

Tempo was frantic for other drills, run here, jump there! Down on the mat, up on your feet, seat roll right, jump up again, forward tumble. Everywhere a player looked or landed, there was another assistant coach yelling for more speed and greater effort.

Dickey said some players were overcome by the setting and spirited exercises and lost their lunch. He admitted the smell was terrible. One of his most dramatic terms described the winter workout scene: “A stinking mess.”

Joe Graham, sophomore guard, landed right in the middle of it.

There wasn’t room under Section X for all players. There were groups with different times to report. Joe was in the third group.

“We arrived to the sound and smell of some of the guys throwing up. In the middle of the winter, the room seemed nearly steamy. Everybody was sweating. I don’t remember how long we worked but it seemed forever.”

Dewey Warren was there. The scene matched his imagination of Marine boot camp, only worse.

“Under Section X was like a dungeon, dark and smelly, the worst place I’ve ever been.”

Bert Ackermann recalls that complaints to Coach Dickey went unheeded.
Robbie Franklin said there were more losses than lunches.

“We lost several teammates that first winter.”

Ackermann said it was a special learning experience.

“It was the foundation for the great comeback of Tennessee football under Doug Dickey.”

Now would be a good time for a great comeback under Butch Jones.

Marvin West invites reader reaction.
His address is

One thought on “Winter workouts, then and now”

Leave a Reply