Robert Reece Neyland
- Born Feb. 17, 1892, Greenville, Texas
- Played football for a year at Texas A&M before receiving an appointment to West Point; there, he pitched 21 baseball game wins in a row; was a heavyweight champion boxer three consecutive years
- Became head football coach at University of Tennessee in 1926; coached 21 years, interrupted twice by service with the U.S. Army; under him, the Vols became the winningest team in the nation — nine undefeated teams, seven bowl games, seven Southern titles, one national championship
- Retired as football coach in 1952, then served as UT’s athletic director until his death in 1962; chaired the NCAA Rules Committee
- Received numerous decorations from the U.S. government, two from foreign countries; promoted to brigadier general as commanding general of the port of Calcutta during World War II
- In 1956, admitted into the College Football Hall of Fame; buried in the Knoxville National Cemetery
- UT’s football stadium, the third-largest in the nation, was renamed for Neyland in February 1962; also bearing his name are the indoor football complex and the road paralleling Fort Loudoun Lake
- Source: News Sentinel archives, University of Tennessee
A statue of Brig. Gen. Robert R. Neyland has been overdue at the stadium that has carried his name for the past 48 years, said one his former players.
"Gen. Neyland made Tennessee football. He was one of the leaders in football in this country," said Pat Shires, who played for Neyland from 1950 to 1952 and was part of a committee to erect a statue of the coach who put University of Tennessee football on the map.
At 2:30 p.m. today, UT will unveil a statue outside the stadium of Neyland, who became the Vols' head coach in 1926 - a position he held for 21 seasons, in and around two interruptions for military service - and made the Vols the winningest team in the nation during his run.
Neyland had nine undefeated teams in 21 seasons, took the Vols to seven bowl games, won seven Southern titles, one national championship and turned out more football proteges than any other coach. When he retired in 1952, he then became UT's athletic director, the position he still held at the time of his death in 1962.
Neyland's statue is part of the university's master plan to renovate the stadium. The plan, announced in November 2004, was to be a long-term solution to the issues that faced the facility and prepare it for the next 75 years. Proposed improvements of the plan included renovations to and widening of concourse areas to assist in traffic flow, increasing the number of women's bathrooms, new concession stands, creation of entry plazas, and updating the infrastructure of the stadium's water, electric and sewer systems.
The renovations were done in three phases.
Neyland's statue and the creation of the Gate 21 Plaza, a brick and wrought iron facade along the north and west exteriors of the stadium, were inclusions in the last phase of the renovations.
Mike Hamilton, UT's athletic director, said that when they began talking about renovations at the stadium, he never felt there was an adequate recognition of Neyland, so they began trying to figure out where and how to do so.
"His impact as a coach and an athletic director, saying it's significant is an understatement," Hamilton said. "He started an incredible tradition here. If you recognize the past, you can set the foundation of what your future can become."
The statue, which will reside at Neyland Stadium between gates 15A and 17, was constructed by artist Blair Buswell and depicts Neyland in a kneeling position. The statue stands 9 feet tall, weighs about 1,500 pounds, and features on its base his famous seven game maxims engraved into the precast. Its cost was $385,000.
Hamilton said they went through great lengths to make sure that the statue looks like Neyland.
"Just a matter of weeks ago, we were looking at his hair and different factors to get the closest proximity of Gen. Neyland we can hope for," he said.
Hamilton said that because Neyland's success was for such a long period of time, he is still recognized and honored today.
"He's a forefather on the thought process of how to coach college football teams," he said. "He had a indelible impact on the game, and I think his service in the military plays a role as well."
A 1916 graduate of West Point, Neyland served in France during World War I. Following the war, he served as an aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
After nine seasons coaching the Vols, Neyland was dispatched by the Army to the Panama Canal Zone in 1935.
A year later he retired from the Army and returned to Knoxville to coach the football team.
In 1941, with the U.S. involved in World War II, Neyland was called back into service. He spent the war years in Norfolk, Va., Dallas, China and India, rising to the rank of brigadier general.
He returned to the Vols in 1946.
Neyland's son, Robert Neyland Jr., said he wants people to know that he had a great father who was kind and loving.
"He was tremendous personally, not just in the Army and on the football field," he said. "He was very successful and did start a tradition."
He said that when he heard about the statue honoring his father, he and his family were happy and that they are looking forward to the official unveiling when he will see it for the first time.
"It's a tremendous honor, and we're grateful to the university and its recognition," he said. "I'm looking forward to seeing it and being a part of it. It's really special; it really is."
Lydia X. McCoy may be reached at 865-342-6250.