Higdon 'lucky my whole life'

Role as administrator was reinforced under Majors

Bill Higdon, then an administrative aide to Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors, shares a quick meal with his family in 1978.

Photo by News Sentinel

Bill Higdon, then an administrative aide to Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors, shares a quick meal with his family in 1978.

If you think the media is overstating the challenge facing first-year Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley, then you should talk to Bill Higdon, who has firsthand experience in rebuilding this program.

"He has no chance right now," said Higdon, who was a longtime recruiting coordinator under legendary UT coach Johnny Majors. "I can't believe where our program is.

"I think it will take him at least three years. I hope the fans can be patient."

Higdon, who will be inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame on Aug. 5, doesn't remember fans being especially patient in the late 1970s. Neither was his boss.

Majors had just finished leading Pittsburgh to an unbeaten season. He accepted the UT job while he was preparing the Panthers for the 1977 Sugar Bowl, where they would cap a national championship season.

While Majors' staff remained in Pittsburgh, he and Higdon became a two-man recruiting team.

"We were going everywhere on the UT plane, trying to salvage what we could (from the recruiting class of outgoing coach Bill Battle)," Higdon said. "There were some long days.

"He made it tough on a lot of people, but he knew what he was doing.

"After a couple of years, he started to confide in me. We had a terrific relationship."

While the rebuilding took longer than expected, the Vols made it to the top of the SEC in 1985, their first conference championship since 1969. In Majors' last four seasons (1989-92), the Vols won 38 games and two SEC titles.

Higdon is optimistic Dooley can execute a similar turnaround.

"He's gonna get it done," Higdon said. "I think he's tough. I think he's got the pedigree (Dooley's father, Vince, was a longtime successful coach at Georgia). And he's smart.

"A coach better be smart in dealing with the press and kids today. You've just got so many things to deal with."

Higdon, who wore a number of different hats in his athletic career, will be inducted into the hall of fame as an administrator. He retired as UT's assistant athletic director for event management last year but still serves as a game manager for baseball. Before he joined UT's football program, Higdon was an assistant basketball coach on Western Kentucky's famous Final Four team, which beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.

"I've been lucky my whole life," he said. "I went to work for Bill Battle in 1975. Then Coach Majors came along, and I was fortunate enough to stick around - 15 years as a recruiting coordinator."

One of the things he learned as a recruiting coordinator: You can never get too many quarterbacks. The Vols already had seven quarterback commitments when Tony Robinson said he wanted to sign with them.

Majors called Robinson's high school coach to tell him UT already had too many quarterback commitments, Higdon said. But Robinson's coach convinced him that he would be making a huge mistake not to sign his quarterback.

"Coach Majors came back to us and said, 'We're gonna take him,' " Higdon said.

Robinson started for two seasons and was playing like an All-American when a knee injury ended his career in 1985. Four other quarterback signees ended up starting in the secondary.

Higdon regarded defensive back Roland James as the best player he ever signed. James started four years, made first-team All-SEC twice and was a consensus All-American in 1979.

But Higdon said Chuck Webb was "the best football player I've ever seen at UT."

"Chuck used to tell me, 'Nobody tackled me today (in practice),' " Higdon said. "He would go into practice trying not to get tackled."

Signing players like James and Webb is the quickest way for UT to become a championship contender again in the SEC. And selling UT now isn't much different than it was when he was the recruiting coordinator, according to Higdon.

"We like to think that our facilities are bigger and better than everybody else's," he said. "In reality, they're not. They're as good as everybody else's. Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia - they've all got nice facilities."

So what makes UT special?

"I'd like to think that Tennessee has got some class to it," Higdon said. "We're not a real red-neck group of people.

"I remember my first trip to Athens, Ga., as a football coach. We pulled up to where the stadium buses park. And this little, old lady - she must have been 80 - was giving me the bird.

"I'm thinking, 'What is this?' "

It was a reminder that southern hospitality didn't extend to SEC football Saturdays. But southern hostility sometimes had its advantages.

Higdon fondly recalls a pregame scuffle between UT and Vanderbilt players before the 1991 game at Neyland Stadium.

"There was a big fight in the end zone," Higdon said. "One of the Vanderbilt coaches - it must have been the defensive coordinator - dropped his game plan.

"Larry Lacewell (UT's defensive coordinator) picked it up and brought it to the dressing room. Coach Majors said, 'Get that up in the press box as fast as you can.'

"So our offensive coaches sat up there in the press box with (Vanderbilt's) defensive game plan. We won the game big."

John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284.

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Comments » 21

bmgvirgo#210233 writes:

Haha, that is priceless that we got Vandy's defensive game plan!

bluetick writes:

Nice article. Man that is the first I ever heard of the 'game plan' gift. Nice! I remember Roland James vaguely but Tony Robinson can't be forgotten by me.

TommyJack writes:

in response to 02champs#209256:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Harsh words, amigo.

volfan73120#211815 writes:

in response to 02champs#209256:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I don't know who your Dad is, but I'm sure he has more class than you.

crimsonviper writes:

Good story John Adams.

hueypilot writes:

Nice story John.

gbeejr#1354500 writes:

I was there when Higdon's W.KY bb team played A.P.S.U in Clarksville and we "peayed" on them. But besides W.Ky. getting beat that night, Higon's coaching staff brillantly decided not to start their regular starting line-up (including Jim McDaniel - All American) for either all or most of the first half. The Peay was so motivated from the lack of respect and beat 'em even when the starters returned. I guess Higdon wasn't so lucky that night. Let's Go Peay!

TXVol76 writes:

He's a good dude. Dealt with him back in 75. He approached me about having our Fraternity sponsor a "beat Auburn" bonfire. He arranged to have the lower intramural field available and we came up with railroad ties, boxes to burn and printed up T-shirts. With cheerleaders, students and the bonfire the crowd was electric headed into the ballgame weekend.

DaddyVol writes:

in response to 02champs#209256:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It's obvious that your Dad was a better athlete than he was a father...otherwise he would have taught you some ettiquette.

jack_2222#231746 writes:

Ironic to mention Chuck Webb and Tony Robinson in light of the current fiasco-- 2 guys who would have fit right in with today's thugs.

DownTheField writes:

Excuse me, how does stealing an opponent's game plan support the claim that Tennessee "has got some class to it?"

easleychuck writes:

in response to DukeDeLuca:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Coach Fulmer is gone.

In hindsight, Mike Hamilton made a bad hire in giving wonderboy the keys to the kingdom. Coach Dooley, as bad as you hate to admit it, is paying for much of the decisions and sloppiness that Coach Fulmer and his staff allowed to take place in his last few years. Throw in the wonderboy espisode and it will take time to rebuild the UT program.

But the sooner that some accept that Coach Fulmer's performance is the reason that Coach Fulmer no longer is the coach at UT, the sooner these individuals can move on with their lives. Coach Majors went through the same type of experience and Coach Fulmer took full advantage.

Congratulations to Mr.Higdon and his family on this honor.

newtonrail writes:

I went to Holston with Bill, and am somewhat prejudiced. Bill has had a job to do, and done it well. Somewhat like Bud Ford, and Haywood before him, only Bill's arena wasn't the press. Being a Major's guy, it hurts to see people use this honor to dig at Johnny. Never been a Fulmer backer, but I was proud to see he and Vickie with Orange blazer on at courtside when Dooley and new gang introduced. Glad to see Thompson walk over and shake hands with him. This past hatred needs to be buried.

bkgunter writes:

in response to rabidvolfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Whao are you----Mrs. Adams ? I'll agree that he does better when he has a few degrees of separation from actual sports, but 5 stars ? Only on a 10 point scale. And not even that for this puff piece about an administrator.

baldingalum writes:

Great article on what appears to be a very good man. Fitting given his body of work that he too echoes the amazing and tragic story that is Chuck Webb.

I grew up in an NFL city and have seen lots of NFL and college running backs for nearly 40 years. Chuck Webb was the best I ever saw. Unparalleled speed, power and vision. What a tragedy.

easleychuck writes:

in response to baldingalum:

Great article on what appears to be a very good man. Fitting given his body of work that he too echoes the amazing and tragic story that is Chuck Webb.

I grew up in an NFL city and have seen lots of NFL and college running backs for nearly 40 years. Chuck Webb was the best I ever saw. Unparalleled speed, power and vision. What a tragedy.

The injury to Chuck Webb is another reason to despise artificial turf. He was never the same again.

murrayvol writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Harsh words, amigo.

And dead wrong.

Higdon has been around the block with one of the toughest guys to work for in the business. I respect his opinion.

murrayvol writes:

in response to DownTheField:

Excuse me, how does stealing an opponent's game plan support the claim that Tennessee "has got some class to it?"

NASCAR Rule #1: "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't workin' hard enough".

worldwideturd writes:

in response to easleychuck:

Coach Fulmer is gone.

In hindsight, Mike Hamilton made a bad hire in giving wonderboy the keys to the kingdom. Coach Dooley, as bad as you hate to admit it, is paying for much of the decisions and sloppiness that Coach Fulmer and his staff allowed to take place in his last few years. Throw in the wonderboy espisode and it will take time to rebuild the UT program.

But the sooner that some accept that Coach Fulmer's performance is the reason that Coach Fulmer no longer is the coach at UT, the sooner these individuals can move on with their lives. Coach Majors went through the same type of experience and Coach Fulmer took full advantage.

Congratulations to Mr.Higdon and his family on this honor.

"As good a post as there's ever been...right on the money"

- Phil Fulmer (aka "VolnotHamilton Fan")

heck writes:

I know Bill Higdon personally and he is definitely a class act. He is pure Tennessee through and through. VolNation should be thanking him for his faithful service and for sharing his UT stories to make the best article this year. Thank you Mr. Higdon!

AWOLVol writes:

Coach Higdon was always approachable and a genuinely kind man. He dedicated his professional life to UT and the Orange and as some have already pointed out, he was a rare point of stability in the high turn-over staffs under Coach Majors (CJM knew coaching talent, as the NFL and college coaching rosters full of his former assistants suggest, but he was TOUGH on them).

As a fellow Holston Warrior, I too am biased in Coach Higdon's favor. But if you'd ever actually met the man there's no doubt about his love and dedication to the Vols. And this is, after all, the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame...it ain't Canton. Give the guy his due and please be respectful of a fine man in his moment of long overdue recognition.

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