This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Last week marked quite the significant moment in Tennessee athletic history. On Monday, university Chancellor Donde Plowman and university system President Randy Boyd announced not only the termination of head football coach Jeremy Pruitt but the retirement of now former Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer. Moving swiftly, university leadership hired UCF’s Danny White to take over the role and lead the search for the next football coach.
White’s hiring came just two days after his brother’s Florida Gators beat a slumping Vol basketball team. (Mike White has served as the head coach of Florida’s men’s basketball team since 2015). Now, he must navigate a coaching search for a program that boasts six national titles and faces potential sanctions by the NCAA.
Tennessee fired Pruitt for cause Monday following investigation of alleged recruiting violations. The coaching carousel sped up during and after the Southeastern Conference season resulting in the termination of Gus Malzahn (Auburn), Derek Mason (Vanderbilt) and Will Muschamp (South Carolina). Former Auburn assistant Kevin Steele, who served as interim head coach after Malzahn’s termination, joined his alma mater’s football staff on Jan. 12. He currently serves as the Vols’ acting coach until White names the next leader.
While the department looks toward the future, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at other moments this week in UT sports history:
Jan. 27, 1906
Early in women’s athletics at Tennessee, the program that would become the Lady Vols played its first game in January on Jan. 27, 1906. Facing Farragut School, the women representing the University of Tennessee lost, 15-2. Captain Essie Polk led the team at the time.
During that nascent season of only three games, the Lady Vols scored a combined total of 10 points. But as game play, rules and the acceptance of women’s sports evolved, so did the Lady Vol program. In 1907, they opened with a 28-0 win against Central High School in Knoxville. A century later, their successors would score 10 times that and more in a single game. Nearly 100 years after the loss to Farragut School, the Lady Vols opened the 2005-06 season with two wins surpassing the century mark against Dalhousie University (131-40) and Carson Newman University (101-55).
In the early 20th century, most seasons consisted of only three or four games, sometimes as many as eight. The games marked primarily recreational matchups with regional teams. The SEC would not recognize conference championships for women’s sports until 1979 and 1980. Tennessee came in second to Kentucky for the conference volleyball title in 1979 before the Lady Vols won the first ever women’s basketball tournament in Knoxville in 1980.
The 2020-21 team faces Ole Miss on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Knoxville.
Jan. 27, 1909
The men’s basketball program also found its origins in the first decade of the 20th century. Three years after the women faced Farragut, the men faced the Texas School for the Deaf in Knoxville, winning 55-16. The game marked only one of two victories in a seven-game season. Both wins came at home.
Seventy years to the day later, the Vols lost a heartbreaker at home in Stokely Athletics Center. Ole Miss narrowly beat Tennessee, 65-64, during a three-game losing streak for the eventual conference tournament champions. The loss stood sandwiched between close battles with No. 9 LSU. The Tigers won 77-75 in Baton Rouge on Jan. 24, 1979, before beating the Vols again in Knoxville, 84-78. However, Tennessee would win seven of its next eight games heading into the SEC Tournament. The Vols beat the bluebloods from the Bluegrass State in overtime, 75-69, to win the conference tournament title. They had previously beat Kentucky during the regular season, 101-84, that February.
Tennessee last played on Jan. 27 in 2018. Traveling to Ames, Iowa, for the Big 12/SEC Challenge, the Vols took down Iowa State, 68-45. The game marked head coach Rick Barnes’ 650th career victory as a head coach and Tennessee’s fifth road win of the season. The No. 22 Volunteers combined for 12 3-point shots in the game. Lamonte Turner accounted for six of those threes and 20 total points. Tennessee finished that season 26-9 (13-5 SEC).
The 2020-21 team will try to get back on track after two consecutive losses tomorrow night against Mississippi State in Knoxville. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Jan. 27, 2018
In more recent UT history, track standout Zach Long broke a 28-year-old school record in the men’s 3,000 meters at the Bob Pollock Invitational in Clemson, South Carolina. In 1990, Glenn Morgan had set the previous record of 8:00.42. Long took the lead with two laps to go to break the eight-minute mark and set a new school record with a time of 7:59.15.
With two individual wins on the day and team bests on the season, Director of Track and Field/Cross Country Beth Alford-Sullivan left Clemson pleased with her teams’ performances.
“Overall, we finished very well. We’re asking a lot from the team,” she said. “We turned around and got a school record in the 3,000 meters with Zach Long. I think he will have another shot to break his own school record now. That was a 28-year-old school record, and he just ran a tremendous race for that. The team came together in the end.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams worked together for season-best times in the 4×400 relays. The women won their race with a time of 3:37.17. The men earned a time of 3:07.08, good for fourth-best in school history.
Meanwhile, then junior Stamatia Scarvelis won both the shot put and the weight throw. Her weight throw victory came on a 21.33-meter toss. The next season, she earned a conference title as SEC Indoor Champion in the weight throw.
The 2021 teams picked up five first-place finishes this past weekend in Blacksburg, Virginia, at the Virginia Tech Hokie Invitational, winning men’s shot put, women’s 400-meter, men’s 400-meter, men’s 5,000-meter and women’s 4×400-meter relays. Tennessee will travel to Clemson for this year’s Bob Pollack Invitational on Friday.