Chip Kell: Gone but never to be forgotten

Marvin Westwestwords

Tennessee legendary lineman Chip Kell has died. Former quarterback Dewey Warren said Heaven will never be the same.

“Chip was a wonderful combination of great football player and great family guy. And the stories he can tell …”

Kell was a sophomore all-Southeastern Conference center in 1968 who became an all-American guard as a junior and senior. He twice won the Jacobs Trophy as the best blocker in the SEC. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

Kell, 75, lived in Cohutta, Ga. He had been in failing health. He died May 25 of pneumonia and other complications.

He grew up in Decatur, Ga., and was a man among boys. He started weight training at age 10. At 15, he was six feet tall and 225. As a prep senior, he was 60 inches around the shoulders and simply overpowering. He could lift 400 pounds.

True story: He once picked up a corner of a Volkswagen bug so the driver, missing a jack, could change a flat tire.

Tennessee track coach Chuck Rohe spotted Kell as a future champion in the shot put. Rohe saved a track scholarship by telling Doug Dickey what Chip could do for the football Vols.

Long before signing time, coaches all over the country had heard of Kell. He had a cardboard box full of college offers.

He didn’t go to Georgia because he thought the Bulldogs took him for granted. He didn’t consider Alabama because Pat Dye, then an assistant coach, criticized him for not always hustling.

Kell’s father had been a pilot. Chip was interested in aviation. Auburn had a great flight program. Tiger fans tried to help with recruiting. Chip’s parents would receive the deed to a cabin lot on Lake Lanier. Chip would get a new wardrobe and a fancy car. Come to Auburn. Just sign here.

Curtis Kell, Chip’s father, was by then a high school coach.

“Dad said I should accept no gifts. He said he would not sell his son. I admired his integrity. There went the Corvette.”

The combination of Rohe and Dickey and Tennessee track and football proved decisive.

Several old Vols shared the same story of Chip’s arrival.

“Elliott Gammage was from Georgia. He was in charge of ‘welcoming’ recruits from Georgia,” said Jim Glover.

“Chip was shy. Elliott told him how to get over it, to stand on a chair in the dining hall and sing his high school fight song.”

As the story goes, Chip knew some of the words and could almost carry a tune. It was comedy time for the team. Kell survived.

Dewey doubts that the Vols ever had a stronger lineman.

“When Chip as a guard would pull to lead a sweep, you could see defensive backs looking for a place to hide.”

Tennessee had a 26-5 record in Kell’s three seasons. The 1970 team went 11-1, defeated the Air Force in the Sugar Bowl and finished fourth in the AP poll.

San Diego drafted him in the 17th round. He earned $17,000 as a rookie. He moved to the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian League. In his second season, he suffered a terrible knee injury.

Chip returned to UT and passed 36 class hours in one quarter to finish his degree. He earned a master’s with a 3.8 grade average. He built or improved weight-training rooms for 30 years in Tennessee and Georgia. He was a high school coach. Once or twice he yelled at officials.

“I once had my team in a bad position, first down and 80 yards to go.”

In 2016, Kell wrote a book, his life story, “All in God’s Glory.”

Chip said: “I was taught to never quit, to avoid sports-enhancing drugs and to never make excuses. Finally, I realized God gave me the strength to break through the barriers to a lifetime victory.”

In the dedication, Kell quotes from the Bible, Luke 23:24: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is


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