Family vacations are a great way to get a little more traveling in around the country! This week, my parents and I are trekking across Tennessee and making a few stops along the way. First we hit Memphis, found a bar with live goats, and climbed up to the top of the Bass Pro Pyramid (along with spending an hour at the duck pond). After Memphis we headed to Nashville for a few days in Music City. We just arrived in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a few days in the mountains to complete our state-length drive!
Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee – the good ole Vols. This is actually a campus I haven’t ever seen before. I had a couple of friends on Butch Jones’s staff, but he lost his position to Jeremy Pruitt this past season. Off-season was a little rough for the Vols – the athletics staff had a hard time pleasing fans and donors with a good head football coach choice.
If you aren’t familiar with it… it was actually pretty entertaining. I’ll fill you in. Originally, Tennessee had just hired a new Athletic Director, who chose the Ohio State’s Defensive Coordinator, Greg Schiano, to replace Butch Jones. Well… Schiano was actually at Penn State during the Sandusky era (I’ll let you Google that one), and it didn’t sit well with anyone at Tennessee. With big power-program schools like Tennessee the donors have a lot of pull with new coaches. I mean, after all, you’ve gotta keep the people with money happy. But the unique thing with this situation was the outrage from the fans. Students and fans hammered Tennessee via Twitter, totally disapproving of the choice. Needless to say, Schiano was out after that – and so was the brand new Athletic Director. But, props to Tennessee Athletics to listening to their fans!
But enough about Tennessee’s drama – let’s talk about their gorgeous athletic facilities. Tennessee has actually been one of my favorites so far, for a really strange reason: all of their athletic offices and sports teams offices are connected. It makes for a sense of unity. Unfortunately, LSU does this pretty poorly, so I appreciate a school that does!
Tennessee’s Football Facility is called the Anderson Athletic Center – which is connected to their indoor practice facility, their weight room, the Brenda Lawson Athletic Center, and the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. Their outdoor practice fields are actually under construction right now along with some of the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
Now this lady right here – Pat Summit – is an absolute legend, and I just have to recognize her. She passed away recently in 2016. Not only have I heard she was an incredible woman and person, but she’s clearly an incredible coach. Our LSU Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Nikki Fargas, played for Pat and coached at Tennessee under her as well. I love hearing Coach Nikki’s stories about Pat Summit. Summit won 8 National Championship titles during her years at Tennessee and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everything she’s done. Check out her titles and records here!” It’s truly incredible.
The Vols’ indoor field is a shared field with the other sports. On one end zone is the football team’s weight room and on the other is the rest of the sports’ weight room. Overall, it’s not a bad looking indoor facility. I like all of the balconies up top that allow you to overlook the field. They aren’t just from the coaches’ offices either like most schools. Some of the athletics staff have windows and balconies to the practice field.
This is the LaPorte Strength & Conditioning Facility, which just houses football. It connects to their main lobby for the football offices where they have their Football Fall of Fame. We’re actually going to start with the coaches’ offices though… Mainly because this place is a maze! And there’s so much to see.
What’s better to put in your main office entry than your National Championship Titles? Tennessee holds 6 National Championship titles with their most recent being in 1998.
They, of course, have that 1998 National Championship trophy on display right here… in it’s very own room. Yep, this whole room is just for this trophy.
Right of the 1998 National Championship Trophy’s room is the coaches offices. These hallways are always pretty narrow so it’s hard to really display how detailed their doorways are. They have some creative ways of displaying coaches’ names on their offices – which is hilarious considering how high turnover can be. I wonder how much it costs to redo one when someone leaves…
Welcome to Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt’s suite! This suite in itself is actually kind of a maze. Believe it or not, the staff is still getting settled in. Coach Pruitt proudly displays academic honors outside of his office suite which actually surprised me. But it was impressive. Being in student-athlete academics makes me a little bit of a nerd for that stuff!
Right down the hall are the SEC Network offices, compliance offices, and all that fun stuff. Like I said, I really like athletic departments that are intertwined like this one is. Or maybe that’s just so compliance can keep an eye on football…? You be the judge!
Next up is the Vols’ impressive Hall of Fame. Peyton Manning was surprisingly absent from this area… but don’t worry. Turns out he has his own room. Peyton Manning is a Tennessee alumni, along with one of my favorites, Jason Witten.
Tennessee Football clearly has no shortage of trophies and victories. They’re a very storied program with a lot of history. At one point, their stadium held the most in the country. Unless my knowledge is outdated, it sits 105,000 – and they absolutely fill it! It’s pretty impressive.
One of the things I liked about Tennessee’s trophies were their contributions to the bowl state (like the oranges in the Orange Bowl). I thought that was pretty unique – it’s not something I’ve seen before.
Here’s Peyton Manning’s personal tribute room. Unfortunately it was locked for an event so we steered clear of the inside. Bummer because I would’ve actually really loved to see this, especially since he just retired.
On one side of the trophy displays are the smaller individual meeting rooms. Compared to the big one for the whole team, this is nothing…
This meeting room is for the whole team. Wall-wise, it’s pretty plain compared to the other film rooms I’ve seen, but I really liked the color scheme of it. The seats were comfy too!
With their history, Tennessee obviously spits out NFL prospects like no other. In recent years, they’ve struggled though. They had top-5 recruiting classes every year but consistently fell in the bottom half of the SEC. Which definitely wasn’t typical. Since Lane Kiffin left them high and dry, they’ve had a hard time rebuilding (side note: if you like football scandals, check out the book “The System” – Lane Kiffin at Tennessee is one of their first stories).
Neyland Stadium is definitely on the top of my list to visit for a football game! One of my top-5 favorite football traditions is their game-day attire that makes the whole stadium look like an orange and white checkered board like their end zone. And it’s EVERY game – not just one. It’s crazy how you can get 105,000 people to get on board with that every single game.
Personally, I think I’ll check out the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry here one day. You really just can’t beat that kind of rivalry.
Later this week, I’ll be posting my visit of Tennessee’s in-state and in-conference rival, the Vanderbilt Commodores. I took a private tour of their football facility and got to check out their stadium. Also, I took a private tour of the Tennessee Titans stadium thanks to my friend, Kristen, who also happens to be a Vanderbilt grad!