Legendary Neyland family reveals decision to leave Rocky Top
The family behind University of Tennessee’s legendary Neyland Stadium is celebrated in Big Orange Country but made a conscious decision to leave Rocky Top.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Neyland Stadium is a place for the people. That’s what Robert Neyland Jr., the son of General Robert Neyland, will tell you. The 91-year-old spoke with WVLT News Anchor Ted Hall after the stadium turned 100 years old on September 24. The milestone prompted Hall to uncover stadium secrets that Vo fans might not know about.
General Robert Neyland coached the Vols to four national championships, once winning 33 games in a row. He’s still got the best winning percentage of all time among SEC coaches, even beating Alabama football coaches Nick Saban and Bear Bryant.
General Neyland’s son. Neyland, Jr., got to play ball at University of Tennessee, he told WVLT News.
“1952 and ‘53 I was second team and got to play a lot,” he said. Neyland Jr. was also the UT swim captain, but he’s not familiar to many East Tennesseans. He didn’t stay in Knoxville long, instead leading a successful career in banking in the Tri-Cities, then Nashville.
“Well I got an offer, that’s why I moved to Sullivan County,” Neyland, Jr. said.
The General’s grandson, Blake Neyland, told WVLT News that his parents weren’t fans of living in a spotlight created by General Neyland, “My mother always told us that they wanted to get out of there, there was a spotlight...It was not something that they felt great about just living under, so we moved 90 miles away. People still knew who we were, but it wasn’t quite as much.”
Under the stands that sat 109,061 fans on one game day, are some spots the University of Tennessee isn’t crazy about visitors seeing. Kevin Zurcher, Assistant Athletic Director, told WVLT News about some of the secrets of the stadium.
“Right now there’s nothing in them, there used to be classrooms,” he said. Eighty years ago there also used to be dorms, he said. Those dorms are on their way out, however.
Over the last century, $200 million has gone into Neyland Stadium, the ninth largest college football stadium. It sounds like a lot, but a good season of ticket sales can bring in $30 million, and now officials are planning some upgrades. Facilities like the visitor locker room will be improved and new features like a jumbo screen and field-level bar will be added, Zurcher said.
Zurcher said “For a visitor locker room, it’s pretty nice,” but the university is still ready to make some improvements. Those improvements will include taking out the original, 100-year-old bleachers at the end of this season. Contractors will start working as soon as the Vanderbilt game is over.
When asked if he felt an ownership over the stadium, Neyland Jr. told WVLT News “Not really, it’s the people’s would be more correct.”
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