Texas football coach and Cookeville native Mack Brown didn’t go so far as to hum “Rocky Top,” but he was singing plenty of praises for former Tennessee coaches Gen. Robert Neyland, Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer.
At the Foundry on Saturday morning to receive the Knoxville Quarterback Club’s Robert R. Neyland Memorial Trophy for contribution to collegiate athletics, he told an audience of prep football scholar-athlete honorees and others that he even uses some of Neyland’s maxims before Texas games.
“When you open your pregame speech with stuff the General did back in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, that’s pretty cool,” he said.
He said he was humbled to get an award named for the coaching legend.
“To be standing here today honoring Coach Neyland’s name and with all the great coaches and players we’ve been able to be around and coach with, it is a great pride for me to come back to my home state and receive this,” he said, adding that he was honored to be introduced by Neyland’s son, Bob Neyland Jr.
Brown, who led the Longhorns to the national title in the 2005 season and coached at North Carolina and Tulane, added that he took a goodwill tour to visit the troops in Iraq a few years ago and as a result appreciates Neyland’s military career even more.
Brown, who had several family members and old Cookeville friends in attendance, also saluted Majors and Fulmer, asking the audience members to give the two coaches a standing ovation — which they did.
“Coach Majors, he was an idol to my brother (fellow coach Watson Brown) and me when I was growing up in Cookeville,” he said. “And Phil and I played against each other in high school. To watch him get that national championship trophy in ’99 (the ’98 season) was a wonderful thing to see.”
Brown said when he was young he cheered for both Tennessee and Alabama under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Eddie Watson — Brown’s grandfather and a high school coach — knew Bryant.
“Coach Bryant was very close to our family, and my granddad obviously knew Coach Neyland and was very fond of him.”
Brown said he did not seriously consider coming to Tennessee to play because the Vols were going through a transition at coach from Doug Dickey to Bill Battle and his older brother, Watson, was already at Vanderbilt. As a result, he also signed with the Commodores, although he transferred to Florida State.
“Your parents want you at the same spot,” he said. “But I made an official visit (to Tennessee) and just loved Coach Battle. I’m proud of him that he’s taken the AD job (at Alabama).”