Mattingly: Signing day in 1965 was a good start for UT

Tennessee legend Gene McEver, right, and son Jim look at a
picture of the elder’s playing days in 1966.

Photo by special to the News Sentinel

Tennessee legend Gene McEver, right, and son Jim look at a picture of the elder’s playing days in 1966.

Tennessee legend Gene McEver, right, and son Jim look at a
picture of the elder’s playing days in 1966.

Photo by special to the News Sentinel

Tennessee legend Gene McEver, right, and son Jim look at a picture of the elder’s playing days in 1966.

National Signing Day is upon us Wednesday, complete with University of Tennessee functions across the state, in Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis. It's always an exciting day, complete with up-to-the-minute reports on the signees as quickly as the technology of the day can get them out to a waiting media and public.

UT's official Web site,, will probably get a record number of hits Wednesday. For perspective, the athletic department Web site received 319,154 page views during signing day last year with 454,641 the entirety of February.

Media will likely "cut in" to regularly scheduled programming to announce each signee. New coach Lane Kiffin's initial comments on the class will also be anxiously awaited.

Sports Information staff will be talking with each one, procuring all kinds of interesting tidbits for future use, and confirming height, weight, school records, big games, sports played, and other priceless gems that will be a part of countless stories over the next years.

Microfilm from a long-ago signing day, e.g., Saturday, Dec. 11, 1965, was illustrative. Singing day was sandwiched between the UCLA game, and the Bluebonnet Bowl the next week against Tulsa.

"Just the way they do at Gemini Control, somebody came up with a countdown, high noon finally arrived and zoomed off in another spectacular flight," Knoxville News-Sentinel sportswriter Marvin West wrote. "As fast as pens would write and coaches could shake hands and relocate, the Volunteers signed 16 prep football stars yesterday."

The recruiting class obviously paid attention to the way Doug Dickey was building the program in only his second year and to the events that made the 1965 season one of the most memorable in school history. Some big names were becoming Vols that day.

Some made it.

Some didn't.

One of the "big names" was halfback Jim McEver, son of tailback Gene, the linchpin of the "Flaming Sophomores of 1928," who had helped start all this madness 37 years before with his kickoff return against Alabama. Jim was described as "perhaps the top prize in North Carolina."

Then there were tailback Bubba Dudley, most valuable player in Nashville, Wayne Smith, lineman of the year in the state capitol, Kingsport's end Vic Dingus, and Chattanooga's talented duo of tackle Steve Carroll and running back Eddie Hudson.

Jackson halfback Don McLeary, who had scored 23 touchdowns and rushed for 1,174 yards, made the early returns, Vol assistant George McKinney calling Don "one of the most complete players in the state."

Also added to the fold were linebacker Fred Pipkin of Gate City, Va., and tackles Walter Jordan of Smyrna and Tommy Baucom from Glencliff.

There were "home-grown" quarterbacks Gary Kreis of Oliver Springs and Steve King of Greenback. Over the years, Kreis, nicknamed "High Pockets," has made a name for himself in local coaching circles.

There was also a major push around Atlanta, as tackle Richard Brooks (Griffin), fullback Greg Berry (Decatur), halfback Lanny Pearce (Clarkston), and end Herman Weaver (Villa Rica) inked scholarship papers.

Weaver, described as "a 6-4 future split end," became a punter ABC's Don Meredith later called "Thunderfoot" for the kicks "Dandy Don" thought brought rain. That appellation came during Weaver's distinguished pro career with the Detroit Lions.

There was hope that the state's No. 1 quarterback, John Rippetoe of Johnson City, trying to decide between Tennessee and Vanderbilt, would later sign with the Vols, and he did.

There were several players who didn't sign the first day, including Cincinnati's Jack Reynolds and Tampa's Steve Kiner, who were All-America selections as linebackers during their career.

There were also Nashvillians Mike Jones, running back, and defensive back during his time at Tennessee, Manley Mixon, who became a defensive end, and Bobby Patterson, a running back. Fullback Steve Wold came from Port Orange, Fla. West Virginia fullback Tom Callaway also came later. The class ended up numbering 33.

"We have to start right here at home every year," Doug Dickey said. "If we can get the best boys in East Tennessee, we'll be OK other places. I'm very pleased with our first day's work and with the young talent we've signed. It looks like a good crop and a good start."

You could definitely say many of these guys made an impact during their careers, some in 1967-69, others redshirting and ending their careers in 1970. There were SEC titles in 1967 and 1969, and an overall 37-7-1 record. None of them ever lost a game on Shields-Watkins Field, a 17-17 tie in the 1968 Georgia game spoiling their record.

There were big moments, four straight wins over Alabama, for example, and two crash-landings, Jan. 1, 1969, in the Cotton Bowl against Texas, 36-13, and Nov. 15, 1969, in Jackson, Miss., the so-called "Jackson Massacre," 38-0.

Looking back, however, the abundance of the good times definitely outweighs the bad.

Tom Mattingly is the author of "The Tennessee Football Vault: The Story of the Tennessee Volunteers, 1891-2006" (2006), to be published in second edition in 2009, and "Tennessee Football: The Peyton Manning Years" (1998). He may be reached at His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian."

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Comments » 11

FWBVol writes:

in response to VY10_Titans:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What some people find as worthless others of us find as wonderful strolls through the history that made Tennessee football what it is today. Jack Reynolds, Steve Kiner and Herman Weaver are not part of a worthless story, but part of the glorious past of our beloved Volunteers.

Thanks Tom for another great look back.

Your old SID pal,
Randy Dickson

tractoronthepole writes:

in response to VY10_Titans:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

VY10 the only thing worthless on here is you. Why don't you make your first effort and become a true vol fan.

Perhaps history will repeat and this class will be special and have a four year record better than this class did.

Pullingguard writes:

Absorb what you read and you will get a true meaning of the contents... You must have a little grey to really understand and appreciate the article, for those players contributed mightly to the vol program.

volnsc51 writes:

in response to VY10_Titans:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Idiot ...I guess I could say worthless idiot

easleychuck writes:

Thanks, for the article Mr.Mattingly. The article is very telling that many of these signees were considered big time and never really had much of an impact. Others were sort of faceless kids when signed and turned out to be big time contributors.

That is what makes recruiting so maddening some 44 years later. You just don't know what big time recruit will miss and or hit. Same goes for the somewhat less ballyhooed kid who becomes a serious player. Nobody knows.

But who knows this class could jump start this program and get back going in the right direction.

One other thing, that is kind of sad when reading this article is how Dickey blew what he had at Tennessee. Also, you forget how short the amount of time that he spent here. He had the world in the palm of his hands and he threw it all away because he did not have the guts to tell his wife no.

FL never got over the hump during his years there. He could have ridden the UT horse to amazing heights. What a waste of talent.

stroker writes:

in response to VY10_Titans:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Then you mean you no comprender good story!

stroker writes:

in response to VY10_Titans:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Then you mean you still no comprender good story!

TommyJack writes:

Good story.

txsvol#372416 writes:

Hacksaw, 'Ole Miss Mule,' 'Thunderfoot' and Steve Carroll, whose 4 seats Dad bought a few times during his career as #70, DT! I hope these guys are doing well, as well as the other guys from that class. From other articles on this site recently, some of their teammaates are passing on. Go Vols1 SAVol

richvol writes:

That Cotton Bowl game was the first time I saw the option offense at work. It looked like the first time Tennessee had seen it as well. Texas ran and passed all over UT that day. Texas had a QB named James Street that was a magician faking the ball and threw to a very fast receiver named Cotton Spryer who kept getting behind our secondary. A very disappointing loss.

Tennessee football was on it's way back was great beating Alabama four times in a row. No one had done that before.

bob writes:

our commits stink. We will only end up with jeron and jerod. we wont et any one else. Marlon Brown is goin to Ole miss because my friends knows some one who knows marlon. i dont understand why we dont get all of these commits because we have the best coaches. We could just say hey Marlon Brown your gonna go to the NFL because we have four coaches that were in the NFL and we have the best defensive coach in the whole hisory of football. we have the best stadium too. Yeah we need everybody we can get. COMMIT TO TENESSEE

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