Tom Mattingly: Bob Jones went from Vol foe to unforgettable assistant coach

Here's an interesting question for all the armchair historians out there.

Name an opposing quarterback who helped defeat Tennessee in a bowl game and became an assistant coach for the Vols several years later.

The quarterback in question is Bob Jones, the 1950s Baylor signal-caller, who led the Bears to a 13-7 win over the Vols in the 1957 Sugar Bowl, the only game ever between the two schools. Tennessee was ranked No. 2 (AP), while Baylor was No. 13.

He was captain of the 1956 team and a native of Hearne, Texas.

He would later become an assistant coach under Doug Dickey in 1965.

On New Year's Day 1957 in New Orleans, Jones threw a 12-yard TD pass to Jerry Marcontell for the Bears' first score, one of only two completions he had on the day. You'd have to say he made the most of his opportunities.

With Baylor rushing 64 times for 275 yards, an unheard-of figure against the Vol defense in those days (or any other day, when you think about it), he really didn't have to throw much at all.

Tennessee didn't help by losing a fumble and having four passes intercepted.

The Chicago Tribune Press Service wrote that, "A bruising band of Baylor Bears came out of Texas today to tear to shreds the reputation of All-American Johnny Majors and his hapless gang of Tennessee Volunteers."

Looking back, a staff writer for Baylor's official athletic department website called the win "perhaps the greatest victory in Baylor football history."

After graduation in 1957, Bob earned a Baylor law degree and served on the Baylor staff as defensive backs coach in 1963.

In Jones' early days on staff, the Vols defeated Army and South Carolina and tied Auburn and Alabama. Better days were ahead. There was a renewed spirit around the football program and among Vol fans. Vol fans began to believe that "Tennessee was back."

Dickey was selling a dream to Vol players and prospects, and the tie with the Crimson Tide was a significant step forward. Tennessee earned a two-page color picture spread in Sports Illustrated. Just as if the gods had ordained it, there were the Vols, dressed in orange jerseys, slugging it out on Legion Field with Alabama, dressed in their crimson shirts. By any measure, such a photo spread provided instant credibility for the Vol program.

"But in this season that ran the gamut of emotions, real-life despair was just around the corner."

John Shearer wrote that in a piece in the Chattanoogan on Dec. 5, 2005.

"On the following Monday morning, offensive line and kicking coach Charlie Rash, 28, left his Forest Oak Drive home in Knoxville in his Volkswagen Beetle, stopped to pick up end coach Bob Jones, 30, at his Deane Hill Apartment on Gleason Drive (which today borders West Town Mall), and then headed to pick up Coach [Bill] Majors at his Cessna Drive home a mile or so to the southwest."

They were undoubtedly looking forward to the assignment of bring the Vols "back" to national prominence, overjoyed with the progress of the Vol squad, with the 7-7 tie with Alabama two days earlier being the most recent example.

Crossing the Southern Railway mainline at Cessna and Westland Drive in the early morning fog, their car was broadsided by an eastbound passenger train headed to Knoxville. Majors and Jones were killed instantly while Rash survived until the next Thursday.

Three young wives became widows, and seven sons, all under the age of 10, were left fatherless. It was a stunning moment, one unmatched in Tennessee football history.

There were those who knew, perhaps instinctively, that the coaches killed in that accident were each destined to become head coaches.

"All three were great young men and talented coaches," Haywood Harris wrote. "I imagine all of them would have become great head coaches. They worked hard. They had worked harder than usual in preparation for our game against Alabama."

Police found Jones' Baylor Sugar Bowl watch, stopped at 6:53 a.m., near the scene of the accident, helping investigators to pinpoint the time of the crash. Dickey recalled that he went to Jones' home after the accident, given that Jones and family had been in Knoxville the shortest amount of time.

When you think about it, Bob Jones made two impacts on the Tennessee football program, the first when he helped disappoint Vol fans in the 1957 Sugar Bowl.

He got a chance for a make-up call eight years later, being part of the Vols' resurgence on the gridiron, coaching Johnny Mills, Austin Denny, and other wide receivers.

He went from being a part of "them" in 1957 to being a part of "us" in 1965 very quickly.

He wasn't here long, but he remains a part of the Tennessee family.

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Comments » 3

Couchdummy writes:

Well written account of a painfully sad event. The area it happened in was out in the country in those days before West Town was even built. Western Plaza was "west town" then.

AllforTenn writes:

Austin Denny was a tight end, not wide receiver.

allvol32 writes:

I knew that Bill Majors was killed in a tragic accident but I was unaware of the details of this horrendous event that took the lives of these three fine young men and left their families without husbands and fathers - God bless them all and their families.

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