Everything is different at Tennessee. Those sleek, modern houses on fraternity row were not there three years ago, and neither was the William B. Stokely Athletics Center, with its 13,000 seats for basketball and its splashy orange carpeting covering everybody's office floor from Athletic Director Bob Woodruff on down. The 1969 NCAA track and field championship is going to be held on the Tartan surface of the Tom Black Olympic Track and two new swimming pools have led the coeds to trade their hopsack dresses for bikinis. When the sun is out, "The World's Largest Grill" isn't even the most popular campus hangout anymore, the natatorium is. But nothing has changed as much at Knoxville as Tennessee football.
Three years ago the Volunteers were losing as often as they won, and had been doing so for some time. They were still playing in the historic Tennessee mold of stout defense and batter-it-out offense, but not playing it as well as in the Bob Neyland era. There were no bowl invitations to accept, and few All-Americas to brag about. Then along came Doug Dickey, only 31 and bursting with the winning spirit of six years under Frank Broyles at Arkansas. He climbed into a private plane and flew into places like Tullahoma and Humboldt and Oliver Springs, and suddenly Tennessee was playing football again—exciting, fancy football at that. In 1965 the Vols surprised everybody by winning seven of 10 games, and then went to the Bluebonnet Bowl. Last year it was seven of 10 and a Gator Bowl win. Now a new deck is planned for the east side of Neyland Stadium, which everybody in the state is trying to squeeze into so that they can watch Dewey Warren pass, Richmond Flowers catch and Tennessee win.
Warren exemplifies the new regime. He likes to pick out somebody in an orange shirt, maybe 50 yards away, and throw a football to him. To understand how dramatic this approach is at Tennessee, consider the school records Warren set last year. He attempted 229 passes. The old mark was 81. He completed 136. The old record was 44 (his own the year before). He gained 1,716 yards passing—as opposed to the record of 552. "Dewey can loft the ball or drill it," says Dickey admiringly. "When you have a boy who can throw like that you just let him get out and throw all he wants."
Especially you let him throw to Richmond Flowers. Tennessee lost two good ends, Johnny Mills and Austin Denney, but with Flowers at flanker they won't be missed as much as they might. Flowers, a championship hurdler in the winter, spring and summer, hurdles defenders in the fall. His tremendous speed and gifted hands enabled him to catch 35 passes for 407 yards and five touchdowns last year, and Dickey says he is now better than ever. "He's smarter," says Dickey. "He has perfected different patterns instead of just trying to outrun everybody, and he has made himself a threat in front of the defender as well as behind him." Meanwhile two able ends, Terry Dalton and 212-pound Mike Gooch, have stepped in to replace Mills and Denney. Another man who may do some passing is Tailback Charlie Fulton. He was Tennessee's quarterback two years ago until he was hurt and lost the job for good to Warren. He is an elusive runner, but also an accomplished passer. "I guarantee you," says Dickey, "that Charlie will throw a few this year."
The only time the opposition's defense can forget about the pass is when Fullback Richard Pickens has the ball. Pickens, a junior, has learned to run lower than he did a year ago when he averaged 5.2 yards a carry. The improvement will be needed, for Pickens' backup, Bob Mauriello, who gained 192 yards in 42 carries, has not recovered from a knee operation.
Helping the offense work is the best line Tennessee has produced in years. It has two outstanding players in Bob Johnson, a 6'4", 231-pound center whom the pros rate high, and Tackle John Boynton. Charles Rosenfelder and Joe Graham, who has been switched from the defense, make a superior guard combination.
The defense is a proven one—except at the very position where Dickey would like experience the most: linebacker. This is where Tennessee may be in trouble. For the first time in Dickey's career he is without somebody in the Emanuel-Fisher-Naumoff class. "It is really too much to expect All-Star linebackers every year," he admits, "but in our defense heavy tackling responsibility falls upon the linebackers." Dickey's answer has been to settle for speed instead of size. He has moved 191-pound Nick Showalter from defensive end to play alongside Steve Kiner, 194, a sophomore who had a fine spring game. Jimmy Glover, 194, returns as the monster man. This trio must come through, and if it does the defense will hold up. If not, Tennessee's good defensive backs, led by an excellent safety man, Bill Young, will have too much to do.
Dickey's latest innovation is a computer that will greatly speed up the assessment of scouting reports on the Volunteers' opponents, but it does not take a scientist to figure that somebody was not computing very well when those opponents were chosen. None of the top 20 teams has a start much tougher than Tennessee, which must face UCLA, Auburn, Georgia Tech and Alabama in its first five weeks. It will take scouting reports galore and Warren at his wildest to get the team through that with a 3-1 record. If the Vols do come through 3-1, however, they will be set for the big year that will prove just how different things really are in Knoxville.