Lovie Smith and Gen. Robert R. Neyland of the University of Tennessee....
Lovie Smith and General Robert R. Neyland of the University of Tennessee: Two Coaches Deeply Intertwined through History’s Lessons
By Jonathan Henderson
May 11, 2012
Special for DaBears.com
(To the left: General Robert R. Neyland, former head football coach at the University of Tennessee from 1926-1952, standing with his right hand placed on the shoulder of Vols' All-American running back Hank Lauricella at the 1951 Cotton Bowl Classic. He won seven SEC titles [1927, 1931, 1938-'40, 1946, and 1951] and four National Championships [1938, 1940, 1950, 1951].)
From 1926-1952, save for the 1935 and 1941-45 seasons when he was away on military duty, General Robert R. Neyland made University of Tennessee football into a national and regional power to be reckoned with along with the other dominant college football programs of the day (Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama, and USC). Neyland finished his career at Tennessee with a record of 173-31-12, good for a .829 winning percentage. He won seven Southeastern Conference titles (1927; 1931; 1938-’40; 1946; 1951) and four National Championships (1938, 1940, 1950, 1951). One of his most famous All-Americans was none other than the great Beattie Feathers, who was so honored as a Consensus All-American in 1933. Feathers would go on to play for the Chicago Bears from 1934-’37, become the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, as well as set a record that remains unbroken for most yards gained per rushing attempt at 8.4 yards per carry, both of which were accomplished in his rookie season of 1934.
In the storied history of Tennessee football, scores of talented players have come through who have gone onto the NFL. While all of the Volunteers’ (Vols for short) players were no doubt talented at their craft, some were more blessed than others. That being said, every player since the days of General Neyland has heard the traditional pregame reading of Neyland’s “Seven Game Maxims” which he coined in order to prepare his troops for the rigors of battle on the rough and tumble gridiron. These maxims are as follows:
1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE.
3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don’t let up… put on more steam.
4. Protect our kickers, our quarterback, our lead and our ball game.
5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle… for this is the WINNING EDGE.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.
7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.
These maxims have led the “Big Orange” to being one of the truly great programs in the history of college football. The stadium at Shields-Watkins Field seats 102,455 screaming Vol fans, and is named “Neyland Stadium” in his honor.
Now, fast forward to 1993, and an aspiring young assistant coach named Lovie Smith is working his way up the rank-and-file of the coaching ladder. From 1993-1994, under the direction of former UT head coach Phillip Fulmer, Smith worked as the team’s defensive backs coach. He had come from a rather modest background in being the defensive coordinator at Big Sandy High School in Big Sandy, Texas and would spend two more years in Tulsa, Oklahoma, working at Cascia Hall Preparatory School as the assistant coach as well as being responsible for mentoring young players at the defensive back and wide receiver positions. Then, the next ten seasons would see him coaching at a wide variety of locations, ranging from the University of Tulsa for four years to Wisconsin for one season, and to Arizona State for four years followed by the University of Kentucky as linebacker coach before his stop at the University of Tennessee.
(To the left: Current Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who served as defensive backs coach at the University of Tennessee duirng the 1993 and 1994 season under former Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer.)
No doubt that at each and every location, he picked up valuable experience on his way to becoming the head coach of the Bears. At Tennessee, as was mentioned above, General Neyland’s “Seven Game Maxims” are read in the locker room before every game. And no doubt that Smith, ever the quiet student of the game, developed some of his game strategies from those Maxims. For instance, the Bears make a lot of breaks for themselves by creating takeaways against their opponents. Since Smith has been coach in Chicago, his teams have created more takeaways than any other team in the NFL. Also, the Bears have the best kick returning game in the league in the combination of Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, who both give the Bears great field position as well as are always threats to score. When the Bears turn the ball over less than their opponents, they almost always win. And Smith’s insistence that all of his players know how to properly tackle and how to take proper pursuit angles satisfies the General’s fifth maxim. The Bears bring the heat all 60 minutes of the game, and no matter what the outcome is in each game, fans and players alike leave their seats secure in the knowledge that their beloved team put forth its best effort. Thus, they carried the fight to their opponents.
There is one area in which Lovie Smith has failed to address as head coach, and that is the offensive line. Maxims number four and five call for protecting the quarterback and to block. This is an area in which the Bears have performed poorly over the past five years. In 2010, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half against the New York Giants before having to leave the game with a concussion from his head being slammed against the turf. He would miss the following week’s game against the Carolina Panthers, but would fortunately return to finish a successful season in leading the charge toward the run at the NFC Championship. Smith MUST address this issue as soon as possible, particularly if the line continues to struggle this year.
Lovie Smith shares a unique history which echoes of the past have bestowed upon him, in no small part due to the fact that he learned those “Seven Maxims” of Neyland’s, a rich breadth of football knowledge that helps him teach the fundamentals of the game to his ballplayers as he sets out every year in the pursuit of a Super Bowl ring. Of course, there were other influences; certainly he picked up valuable knowledge from his time at Tulsa, Arizona State, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ohio State, with Tony Dungy at Tampa Bay and with Mike Martz at St. Louis. Still, as a loyal Vol fan and alumnus of the University of Tennessee, I really like to think that the school and athletic department left a lasting impression in his mind. For all intents and purposes, this most certainly happened, because his game plans have always called for attention to detail, maximum effort, and the execution of the game plan to perfection. For this, Lovie Smith is special. He has brought yet another quote hanging above the door in the locker room at Neyland Stadium to life: “I will give my all for Tennessee.”
Certainly, his players give their all for the city of Chicago on Sundays in fall. Smith learned from the master well.
Last edited by Dagan81; 05-12-2012 at 07:30 AM.
High Fives / Like - 2 BEAR DOWN!, 0 Dislikes
Very well written Dags. And it does look like Lovie blew it when it came to keeping the “Seven Game Maxim.”
Thanks, BBPB. I just graduated with my degree in History from UT on Friday. Let me tell you, that major requires a lot of writing and researching. Lovie has adherred to some of Gen. Neyland's maxims, but the ones on blocking and protecting the quarterback seem to be the ones he has left out.
Originally Posted by BigBadPapaBear
The ones that Lovie seems to follow are the ones involving defense and special teams. He has his teams go for the strip on balls as often as they can, which was something that Neyland used to preach back in the early years of Tennessee football. In fact, Neyland was once quoted as saying that there are more ways to score outside of offense than just with offense alone. The 2006 NFC Championship team was living proof of that because a lot of the points it scored came on defense and special teams.
Thanks for the read, BBPB. I'm just glad I told you about the article. I don't know what it is about people not reading the threads I start - maybe it's because I'm too detailed with what I write. I don't know.
Dags congrats on graduating UT. Dags a lot of guys can't handle your threads. You're threads are intense and leave some feeling like intellectual handicaps. lol
Originally Posted by Dagan81
Wow...I never thought of it that way. I mean, soul puts up good threads, thought they be mostly articles that people read and respond to. You should go and read my series of articles I wrote last summer called "Championships Missed: The Lost Years." In them, I covered the 1934 and 1942 undefeated seasons, 1956, the 1980s, and the 2006 seasons where the Bears should have won championships, but didn't.
Originally Posted by BigBadPapaBear
Well written as always Dags. There's a lot of "throwback" football in Lovie Smith's way of doing things and I think that's why he appeals to his defensive players and the McCaskey family as well as he does. Ever since he arrived as HC coach he's been keeping the Bears tradition of a strong defense, and offense that runs the ball well and our rivalry with the Packers close at hand.
He still has some mountains to climb, mainly winning a Super Bowl or two, but I think history will treat him well and he'll go down as one of the most popular Bears coaches in history. Of course that list is fairly short. He'll never equal "DaCoach" as far as that part of his legend is concerned and he'll never try to but all things considered he's actually a much better football coach than Ditka could ever be.
That may be blasphemy to some but I think history will prove me out on that. I may be one of the few who don't think Lovie will be going anywhere after this season and that he'll get one more extension so that he can build a consistent winner. Now that we seem to have fixed a major problem in the front office by replacing Jerry Angelo with a far more proactive Phil Emery I believe we'll see progress towards that goal much faster than we've been accustomed to over the past decade.
Lovie Smith will always frustrate us to a degree because he doesn't possess the "fire and brimstone" style of Halas or Ditka that over the years has become synonymous with winning Bears football. But in his own way he's built a tremendous amount of respect for himself in the eyes of his players and the Bears organization. What he needs to cap it off is that Lombardi Trophy and I have a feeling we're finally gonna get one.
Nice piece Dags.
Last edited by soulman; 05-14-2012 at 08:15 AM.
I'm getting to that age where a lifetime warranty just doesn't mean as much to me anymore as an afternoon nap. Honey Badger Don't Care. Honey Badger Don't Give a Shit.
My own history of this team, and game has many holes, articles like these go a long ways towards filling those gaps. After reading this piece I took a “Wiki” snap shot on Lovie to see if I could come away with a stronger connection. Obviously, Neyland and Smith are from different eras, and I assume Fulmer and Lovie Smith’s time in Tulsa as a player and coach would have had stronger influence. The glue in this piece, (and I admit that sometimes my comprehension is not the best) is the “Seven Game Maxims.”
The maxims are a great list, and I’m sure Lovie picked up on its use during his time with the Vols (1993-4). However, I would think every coach has some version of this saved up for game day. Getting players to focus, and hitting upon the tasks the players have control over one more time before kickoff. This list also covers the full spectrum, there will always be something to improve; any evaluation should find success and failure within these maxims. Therefore, breaking down the bear’s (or Lovie’s) adherence to the maxim’s outlined, does not create a unique relationship, in my opinion, between the two coaches. I guess you have left me hanging a little Dags…
And this is okay, I learned more about the Vols, Lovie, and the Bears. Much appreciated.
On Soul’s comment about “DaCoach,” it might be blasphemy but I agree. Today is a different era, in my thinking, the “Fire and Brimstone” approach is not as effective, a big part of this is societies growing lack of respect towards authority. Since I have started following this game, I’ve always kinda been a Ryan guy because of Rob and Rex. If I was forced to choose, I probably would have been on Buddy’s side after the ’85 SB. But you also have to love Mike, he was true to himself and a heck of a motivator. But lets face it, both of them were crazy, both were so passionate you never knew when they were going to snap for a period of the game. On the whole, I like to think today’s coaches have advanced as teachers of the game.
Last edited by A-11; 05-14-2012 at 01:43 PM.
I don't want a Bounty Bowl. Buddy might have been a brilliant defensive coordinator, but he didn't win much once he left. Great defensive mind.
The first point behind this piece, A-11, was that Neyland was the first head coach in the history of college football to really put these kinds of ideas into perspective. He really believed that there were more ways to score outside of touchdowns and field goals, and he was correct. While the concepts of those maxims were certainly in existence prior to whenever he penned them down, I don't think there is any doubt that he was unique in the fact that he made them the focal point of his strategy. In other words, he believed fervently in driving home his point that to win consistently, a team has to execute in all phases of the game. In college football today, no coach practices this more than Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, nor in the NFL does any coach practice these ideals more than Lovie Smith.
Originally Posted by A-11
The second point this was trying to drive home was Lovie's unique connection to the University of Tennessee football program. While UT rarely ever practiced those maxims on special teams, no doubt Lovie picked up on them either at UT or somewhere along his path to becoming an NFL head coach. I can recall, at least in the college game, how teams have not really placed a lot of emphasis into their special teams units past blocking, stopping run-backs, kicking, and kick returns. Ohio State was notorious for being a bad special teams unit back during the Woody Hayes years. I recall very well watching the old footage of the 1969 Ohio State/Michigan game, the game where Michigan upset the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes 24-12 in a game that was originally supposed to be a coronation as National Champions. Ohio State didn't get very many good run backs, and their kicker that day missed like three or four field goals that would have tied the score. That Colts team that the Bears played in Super Bowl XLI had one of the worst special teams units in the history of the NFL, and that opening kickoff return by Hester could have cost them the game had the Bears not turned the ball over six times. Taking care of the football is another part of the "Seven Game Maxims" that Neyland mentioned.
There are so many things to take into consideration when coaching a football team, though, A-11. It's a constant struggle to juggle everything and make things balance out. Those teams which do the best job in all three phases of the game, like Neyland said and like Lovie preaches to his teams, will be the most successful teams more often than not. I think the only reason Lovie has been as successful as he has is because he juggles all three aspects of the game (offense, defense, special teams) better than just about any coach in the league. Until this year, he's not had the best talent to work with with the exception of the defenses on the 2005 and 2006 teams. Now, finally, he will have arguably one of the top offenses in the league to go with a strong defense and the league's best special teams unit.