Doug Dickey arrived in Knoxville by Southern Railway from Memphis early this day 50 years ago, primed and ready to meet the media and become Tennessee’s new head football coach.
Always the cautious type, Bob Woodruff had Dickey come to Knoxville on the train that left at 10 p.m. Dec. 1, traversing the 425 miles eastward through Middleton, Tennessee, then to Corinth, Miss., Stevenson, Ala., and back into Tennessee, northward from Chattanooga, a move all designed to get Dickey in Knoxville at 6 a.m., early enough to keep him away, hopefully, from all those pesky sportswriters.
A phone call to the family home that Sunday night had resulted in the news that Dickey was on the train to Knoxville, so the young coach suddenly became a hot commodity.
The precise details are consigned to history, but Dickey said he remembered talking with a reporter or two either on the train or at the station in Memphis. Whichever it was, wherever it happened, the cat was out of the bag. Dickey’s appointment as head coach was headline news in the next morning’s Knoxville Journal.
Marvin West was on the story for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, as it was know in those days.
“I was just spinning my wheels trying to find people who knew enough to tell me ‘who or what is a Doug Dickey,’” West said. At maybe 5:15 a.m., I go to the Southern Railway Station and I’m waiting for the train. I’ve been there 30 or 45 minutes, and Coach Woodruff shows up. Coach Dickey bounds off the train onto the platform with an overcoat on, maybe a 42 triple long.”
Even at that early hour, Dickey had an impressive bearing, and Marvin had his orders.
“Dickey was tall, military erect, serious as all get-out,” he said. “I have my little camera and I’m going to make a picture for that day’s News-Sentinel, before he’s presented to the board, before he’s formally hired. I’m going to get it in the paper somehow.”
Then came an interesting little incident for posterity, given the fact that neither Woodruff nor West were particularly light on their feet.
“Woodruff, who wasn’t nimble enough to beat me then, tried twice to get between Dickey and the camera to keep the news from getting out,” West said. “Everybody in the world knew Dickey was the football coach. It just hadn’t been rubber-stamped yet. I’m dodging one way, and Woodruff’s moving the other, and I manage to get one or two shots.”
Marvin was unbowed. Neither was Dickey.
“To Dickey’s credit, he either didn’t know what Woodruff and I were doing or he didn’t try to hide. There are some concrete pillars under there, and I suppose we could have played hide and seek indefinitely. Woodruff went away grumbling, but not really fussing at me. They confirmed Dickey as coach at 10 a.m., and we changed the cutline between editions. That’s the story.”
There’s one final note for posterity. West remembers the camera he used. “It is a two and a quarter by three and a quarter Rolicord—unless it was a Rollicord,” he said. “It is a great little black box camera with a focus wheel and a crank on the side to rapidly advance film. I think I still have it among my souvenirs.” Asked about it today, he still thinks he has it.
Knoxville television stations had not yet perfected the art of the “cut-in”, so news of Dickey’s arrival probably didn’t make local television screens until that evening, if then.
It did make that afternoon’s Knoxville News-Sentinel as a front-page headline, “Dickey Gets Four-Year Contract as U-T Grid Coach.” In the picture, the one taken by West, Dickey appears happy. Woodruff appears grim-faced.
Dickey and Woodruff met with UT president Andy Holt at the presidential home at 940 Cherokee Boulevard in Sequoyah Hills and then held a media conference. Dickey was thus the new head coach at Tennessee, charged with rebuilding the program. No one knew a lot about him, but they would learn. Quickly.
That was the major story of the day 50 years ago.
Tempus fugit and all that.
Monday, Dec. 2, 2013