All-time Tennessee football coach rankings

The University of Tennessee has one of the richest football traditions in the entirety of college football. With six national championships (at Tennessee), 16 conference championships, and hundreds of wins between them, ranking Tennessee’s football coaches in the post World War II era is a tall task.

The coaches successes and failures will be evaluated via national titles, conference titles, winning percentage, and overall impact on the program. Their careers before and after Tennessee will not be considered.

11. Derek Dooley (2010-2012)

dooley

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 0

Winning Percentage: 0.417 (15-21)

Overall Impact:

It should come as no surprise to anyone who even remotely followed Tennessee football during Dooley’s tenure that he ranks as the worst head coach in program history. Dooley not only boasts the all-time worst wining percentage in program history, he also left the program in worse shape than any of his predecessors. In 2012, Dooley didn’t sign a single offensive lineman. That is unheard of in any era of college football, much less the era of the up tempo spread offense. A study conducted after his departure found that 33/35 of Tennessee and Georgia’s best highs school coaches gave Dooley a failing grade in relationship management, and recruiting ability. Dooley took over a sinking ship, and proceeded to shoot holes in the floor.

10. Harvey Robinson (1953-1954)

harvey

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 0

Winning Percentage: .500 (10-10-1)

Overall Impact:

Most Tennessee fans (including this one) will have never heard of Robinson before reading this article. Robinson had the unfortunate task of following a legend, General Neyland. As a successful quarterback under the General, Robinson was a natural successor upon Neyland’s retirement. His career on Rocky Top was short lived and unmemorable. He was fired after posting a 4-6 record in his second season. He went on to have a successful career as an assistant coach in the SEC, and an NFL scout. He ranks ahead of Dooley only because he didn’t do lasting damage to the Tennessee brand.

 

9. Jim McDonald (1963)

mcdonald

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 0

Winning Percentage: .500 (5-5)

Overall Impact:

The former Ohio State basketball standout was an assistant coach on Bowden Wyatt’s staff for seven years before inheriting the mantle of head football coach. His short career was insignificant and unmemorable, with only one season. McDonald realized coaching was not for him, and transitioned to a roll as assistant athletics director in 1964.

 

8. Lane Kiffin (2009)

UTUCLA_AtB_12038

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 0

Winning Percentage: .538 (7-6)

Overall Impact:

Now we come to the most polarizing name on the list. Some would argue Kiffin would have landed among the top two or three names on this list had he remained at Tennessee for more than one season. Others think Tennessee dodged a bullet when the cocky California kid departed for USC in the dark of night. No one knows what Kiffin may have accomplished, so we can only evaluate him based on what he did accomplish. He brought an edge to Tennessee football that had been missing for a number of years, and nearly beat national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa. However, his departure set Tennessee back many years, leading to the university seeking its third head coach in as many seasons. His 7-6 record was not exemplary, and for those reasons he lands near the bottom of the list.

 

 

 

 

7. Lyle “Butch” Jones (2013-)

butch

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 0

Winning Percentage: .588 (30-21)

Overall Impact:

Jones obviously (and hopefully) can climb much higher on this list in no less than a season. He took over a program on life support and has done a solid job restoring the program to respectability. He owns one of Tennessee’s three wins over Florida since the ’98 national championship, and has been if nothing else a stabilizing force for a program in tumult. However, his low winning percentage and lack of trademark wins thus far prohibit him from cracking the top six on this list.

 

 

6. Bill Battle (1970-1976)

 

BillBattleTennesseeCoach

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 0

Winning Percentage: .723 (59-22-2)

Overall Impact:

Mediocre is the word most Vol fans would use to describe the man who was both head football coach at Tennessee, and more recently athletics director at Alabama. Battle had a solid winning percentage over his career, and his tenure was a notch or two above all those previously listed. He even posted three seasons with double digit wins. Battle had one big blemish on his career at Tennessee: he never beat his coach and mentor, Bear Bryant. In the 1970s in Tennessee, there was nothing worse than losing to Alabama, and Battle learned that the hard way.  In 1976, after a sixth straight loss to the Crimson Tide, Battle was terminated. He went on to accrue great wealth as a business man, and lead Alabama, ironically, to its greatest decade of success as athletics director.

5. Bowden Wyatt (1955-1962)

bowden

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 1

Winning Percentage: .622 (49-29-4)

Overall Impact:

Bowden Wyatt is a College Football Hall of Famer as both a player and a coach. However, success mostly eluded him at Tennessee. After posting multiple conference championships at Arkansas and Wyoming, he returned to his Alma Mater to restore it to its status as a national power. Unfortunately, the rest of the SEC just wasn’t willing to cooperate. Wyatt was very average as head coach at Tennessee, and only ranks ahead of Battle because he was able to beat Alabama and win an SEC championship.

 

4. Johnny Majors (1977-1992)

johnny

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 3

Winning Percentage: .645 (116-82-8)

Overall Impact:

Johnny Majors was Peyton Manning before Peyton Manning. As a player at Tennessee, many felt he was cheated out of a Heisman Trophy. After winning a national championship as Pittsburgh’s head coach in 1976, he left a national power to make Tennessee great again. While he was successful at Tennessee, he was never able to make it to the top of the mountain again. That being said, he lead the Vols to three conference championships, a Sugar Bowl victory in 1985 against a Miami team most assumed would win the national championship. Majors only defeated Alabama four times in fifteen seasons, and because of that he was terminated in 1992, after returning prematurely to the sidelines while recovering from a heart attack. In his absence, offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer ran the table in the SEC.

 

3. Doug Dickey (1964-1969)

dickey

National Championships: 1

Conference Championships: 2

Winning Percentage: .738 (46-15-4)

Overall Impact:

Doug Dickey is little talked about among Vol fans today, but he did more to shape Tennessee football in the modern era than almost anyone. Sure, Dickey lead the Vols to two conference titles and their first claimed national title in the post-Neyland era (hotly disputed), but those were not his biggest contributions to Tennessee lore. Doug Dickey put the Power T on the helmet. He first painted the end-zones like checker boards. He started the tradition of “running through the T”. Without Dickey, game day in Neyland would look nothing like it does now. Dickey not only brought Tennessee on field success, he revitalized a dying brand. Dickey is what Butch Jones has always tried to be, a great football coach, and a world class marketer. Had he not departed for Alma Mater Florida after his second SEC title, who knows where Dickey would rank on this list.

 

2. Phillip Fulmer (1992-2008)

phil

National Championships: 1

Conference Championships: 2

Winning Percentage: .745 (152-52)

Overall Impact:

Johnny Majors and Doug Dickey were great coaches, but Fulmer is number two with a bullet on this list. His 150 plus wins are unmatchable in this era of college football. He took Tennessee from good to great for the first time since General Neyland’s departure. The University and some polls claimed Dickey’s 1967 national title, but it was Fulmer in ’98 who undisputedly brought Tennessee back to the mountain top. The 1990s and early 2000s under Fulmer were some of Tennessee’s most dominant years. UT only lost o Bama four times during his sixteen year tenure, two of those losses coming in his last two seasons when his career was winding down. Names like Peyton Manning, Eric Berry, Al Wilson, and Heath Shuler are dear to Volunteer hearts because of Fulmers savvy not only on the sideline, but also on the recruiting trail. He won a title, but he also came up just short on more than one occasion. Fulmer didn’t just achieve success, he maintained it for most of sixteen seasons on Rocky Top.

 

1. General Robert R. Neyland

bob.jpeg

National Championships: 4

Conference Championships: 8

Winning Percentage: .829 (173-31-12)

Overall Impact:

Impact? Neyland didn’t impact Tennessee football, he created it. He took over a fledgling program in 1926, and left it among the blue bloods of sports in the 1950s. Four national championships, eight conference championships, an above .800 winning percentage, these are things Vol fans will never experience again. He did it all while taking multiple breaks to serve his country in the fight against the Nazis. When he first became head football coach, the General was only a Captain. He dominated Alabama, Vanderbilt, Sewanee, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, and every other regional power of the time period. There are no asterisks or blemishes on his record. He coached six undefeated seasons, and nine undefeated regular seasons. 112 of his victories came by holding the opposing team scoreless. In 1938, not a single point was scored on the Vols in the entire season, the last team to do so. He was an innovator, the first to use sideline phones, and study game film. He even designed the stadium that bears his name. Neyland’s dominance will never be matched on Rocky Top.

 

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