Bob Neyland Jr., oldest son of the legendary football coach, has died at age 93.
He grew up in Knoxville, played wingback for the Volunteers, was captain of the swim team, earned a law degree and had a career in banking. He lived in upper East Tennessee, Nashville and Marietta, Georgia. He died there on Tuesday.
Mr. Neyland was proud of the Neyland name and proud of his father’s accomplishments but never flaunted who he was. I had known him almost forever but never really knew him. He never said much about himself.
There was a time it wasn’t easy being The General’s boy. He shared the story of his worst day.
When he was 15, walking home in Sequoyah Hills, some bratty buddies invented a game, throwing rocks at street lights. They brought down 26. Bob nailed two.
I suppose somebody bragged. The tale, with six bad boys and their parents’ names, made it into a certain newspaper.
“Some of those names were pretty well known,’’ Bob said.
The General was away, on military duty. Mrs. Neyland (Peggy) was faithful in sending him news from home. She told her son to write his father the whole story of rocks and street lights.
“I pleaded with her to not make me do that.”
She insisted. He confessed and said he was very sorry.
The mail was slow. Young Bob had three weeks to worry.
Finally, a reply arrived. The General had a thought about the war effort and a wishful paragraph about when he hoped to be home. Near the end of his letter, he got around to street lights.
“About those street lights, `I am ashamed, as a former baseball pitcher at West Point, that a son of mine, out of 26 street lights, could only knock out two. When I was your age, I could have gotten that many left-handed.’’
Bob Neyland Jr. learned a lot about football and life from his famous father. Here’s one life lesson.
Robert Reese Neyland was an outstanding student, football end, baseball pitcher and heavyweight boxing champion at West Point.
In elementary school, son Robert was being pushed around by a classmate. It was bad enough to make Bob too “sick” to go to school. The mother got involved. She asked the father to do something.
“He gave me some boxing lessons.”
The next time the bully, Charlie Badgett, demanded lunch money, Bob Neyland Junior popped him in the nose with a left hook and backed it up with a straight right.
End of harassment.
“I beat him good. We became friends.”
Bob Junior helped write a book. He found in a basement closet a dust-covered, carbon copy of a 30,000-word typed manuscript his father had composed. The document helped Bob Gilbert write “Neyland, the Gridiron General.”
Bob lettered in Tennessee football and swimming in 1952 and 1953. Younger brother Lewis lettered in basketball in 1953-1956, tennis in 1953-54 and golf in 1957.
Lewis died in 2013.
Bob is survived by sons Blake and Reese Neyland. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]